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Prize cuts for NSW horse races -

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Prize cuts for NSW horse races

Ashley Hall reported this story on Friday, July 3, 2009 12:42:00

PETER CAVE: For years, punters have watched the prize money for horse races rise relentlessly - but
not anymore.

The Australian Jockey Club is cutting $4-million in prize money from 30 of its top races in New
South Wales and it's shedding seven staff.

The AJC says it's struggling because of the global financial crisis and the loss of betting revenue
to operators outside the state.

But one commentator says the industry has brought much of the strife on itself because it's been
reluctant to embrace change.

Ashley Hall reports

(Sound of a horse race)

ASHLEY HALL: The closing minutes of the Doncaster Handicap at Royal Randwick Racecourse in April.

This year, it was a $2-million race.

But next year's winning owner will get $500,000 less than that, as the Australian Jockey Club tries
to balance its books.

Ron Finemore is the AJC's chairman.

RON FINEMORE: The alternative was to increase the track fees to all owners and trainers at AJC
facilities or it was to affect the elite few that win the major races.

ASHLEY HALL: Ron Finemore says the industry's been struggling since the arrival of corporate
bookmakers and the online betting exchange Betfair.

He says because these businesses are based outside New South Wales, they're not putting money back
into the sport.

RON FINEMORE: The funds they are paying at the moment, they are paying under protest and they have
challenged that legally and that is in the courts to be decided.

Those funds can't be used because if the case is lost, those funds will have to be returned to the
corporate bookmakers and Betfair.

ASHLEY HALL: There's not the same problem across the country.

This week, the Victorian Racing Club announced it was planning to increase prize money
substantially over the next five years.

The editor of Horse Racing Australia magazine Garry Robinson says racing authorities in New South
Wales should shoulder at least some of the blame for the current strife.

GARRY ROBINSON: There's been a real lack of thrust towards promoting the sport in New South Wales.
There has been too much concentration on protectionist policies, worrying about where people are
betting and why they are betting and putting up all sorts of bogeymen as to why racing is going
wrong rather than looking inwards and seeing what they are doing wrong with the sport itself.

ASHLEY HALL: Garry Robinson says high taxes in New South Wales have forced bookmakers to move to
the Northern Territory, where taxes are lower.

And he says it's foolish to try to exclude them from the market or to force them to pay to operate
in New South Wales.

GARRY ROBINSON: The money has gone. What they have got to try and do is get it back. They are not
going to get it back by legislation because in the end, people are going to do what they want.

You are not going to buy from your local corner store when you can buy cheaper from Woolworths or
Coles and basically that is what is happening here.

The corner store is basically gone except for the convenience market, which is basically people who
are on course. They've gone. The internet is here. New South Wales racing simply has to compete.

ASHLEY HALL: Garry Robinson says that means making racing more attractive to owners, which will
boost the field on the track, the crowd in the stands and the take through the turnstile.

GARRY ROBINSON: If they get the racing product right and New South Wales changes their attitude a
bit and they can attract a lot of that punter business back to New South Wales, the revenue from
that punting business - and that is what really supports the business, the punters - as that
business comes back, prize money can go up again.

ASHLEY HALL: The AJC's Ron Finemore agrees, although he's still keen to see all bookmakers putting
back into the sport.

RON FINEMORE: I feel that all those things need to be done, as well as the corporate bookmakers and
Betfair pay their way.

ASHLEY HALL: If that doesn't work, the AJC could join forces with the Sydney Turf Club

The boards of both clubs are considering a merger proposal from the New South Wales Gaming and
Racing Minister, which promises industry-wide savings of at least $20-million.

But that would mean the sale of at least one Sydney race-track. And it's unclear whether the
proposal would win support in an industry's that traditionally resistant to change.

PETER CAVE: Ashley Hall reporting.