PETER GEORGE, president of the Bookmakers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT), is convinced that Government must play a key role in the survival of the horse racing industry. And he feels because of some of the history between the Government and local racing, the current administration should think about subsidising the sport.
Going into the history of betting that helped horse racing prior to centralisation, George noted: “In the old days of the Trinidad Turf Club (TTC) of which I was a member, there wasn’t anything definitive, but there were talks when the Government then asked the TTC’s management to eliminate the sweepstakes, because they wanted to start the National Lottery. They did not want any competition. Sweepstakes was then a big, big income-earner for the club,”
George explained that as a result of the sweepstakes being stopped, “the Government would compensate the club one way or the other, from the earnings of the National Lottery because they did not want any competition. They requested the club to stop the sweepstakes. So we figured then, not me, the TTC would get some sort of grant or stipend from the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), which really should have occurred.
“What I think should really happen now, the Government should give a grant to the ARC. Maybe through the Betting Levy Board (BLB) of $25 million per annum which will be a sort of subsidy to the industry, particularly for the employment of more than 1,000 people.”
Continuing on how Government can further assist the horse racing industry to survive, George added: “The Government should legislate the importation of horses and equipment should be duty free, and VAT free. This will allow many people to buy more horses, so you create a tax-free environment. The 10 per cent tax charged on bets by the club should be eliminated so that their payout will be encouraging to punters. Now with the taxes from the betting shops and the grant from the Government, the taxes earned by the club from betting will suffice for the racing industry to survive.”
George also had a view on the land that the ARC possesses.
“The club should sell the entire portion of land owned by ARC to the Government. The Government could then apportion a piece for racing, and the balance of acreage, for a low cost housing development. The money received for the land will then be utilised to pay off all racing expenses.” George added: “Major renovation of the club premises and paddock area should begin. Beautify the place and make it user-friendly. The whole facility is not user-friendly. Those two scenarios I think could work instead of wasting time and selling pieces of land, borrowing more money, or whatever.”
However, George stressed: “To implement these projects, the club needs serious capital injection. The only way you will have that injection is from the Government. No private investor or bank is going to afford any loans to the racing industry, not in its present financial state.
“I would also suggest that the BLB and the Trinidad and Tobago Racing Authority (TTRA) consolidate into one unit. The club needs effective cost-cutting measures and proper management.”
George would also close down all of the ARC’s off track betting shops (OTBs) and make all the private betting shops (PBS) agents of the ARC. “The club will save a tremendous amount of money in terms of expenses by making PBS their agents. It will cost them very little,” he said. “Also, the ARC should open up their racing channel to the entire population so that people could stay at their homes and see racing, They could also encourage them to get involved, and if they choose to make a bet they can call the ARC.”
George then advanced a plan to stabilise the BLB’s budget: “Government should legislate a flat licence fee for the PBS in lieu of taxes, a figure to be worked out so that the BLB can manage their income on the basis of a positive return. At this point in time they do not know. They may expect to collect X million, but at the end, they only collect half. There is the need for a positive figure where the BLB could budget their expenses. Government could legislate and replace the 10 per cent tax with the flat licence.”
And in ending, the bookmakers boss stressed that Government needed to save racing jobs.
“I respectfully submit finally - Government is the only saviour of the racing industry at this point in time...Government giving a grant of $25 million to the racing industry is minuscule in comparison to the other hundreds of millions that is being spent on CEPEP and URP.
“What is the reason of this big expenditure of Government? Isn’t it to save jobs? If the answer is yes, then why not help the horse racing industry?”