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Queensland: horseracing industry threatens legal action if Internet gambling is banned.

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PETER CAVE: In Queensland, the horseracing industry is threatening legal action should the federal government outlaw Internet gambling. The Brisbane Turf Club, with a turnover of $20 million annually, says the move is ill-informed and will rob the racing industry of future income. The Turf Club Chief Executive, Stephen Sharry, told John Taylor if the legislation is passed millions will be demanded in compensation.


STEPHEN SHARRY: The industry would have to ask for well over a hundred million dollars in compensation and a club such as ours would certainly have to seek at least $10 million in compensation for loss of future income.


JOHN TAYLOR: The federal government, though, doesn’t seem worried. Several online wagering operators have threatened to sue the government but the Communications Minister, Richard Alston, says compensation claims would fail; there is no obligation to pay compensation.


STEPHEN SHARRY: That may be his attitude but then, on the other hand, the issue of constitutionality would also have to be placed on the agenda. Does the federal government, under the Constitution, actually have the powers to override the states?


JOHN TAYLOR: And what do you think?


STEPHEN SHARRY: I would say morally they certainly don’t. Each state has its own legitimate TAB set-up and those TABs hand a lot of money back to the industry and they put money back into the coffers of the state governments. This is just another way of cutting that revenue.


JOHN TAYLOR: Do you think, though, that a crack-down on online gambling is needed in Australia?


STEPHEN SHARRY: I have little to do with general gambling. The issue of horseracing is different. Horseracing is a complex wagering product. It requires knowledge and it requires skill, and the use of the Internet is little different to the use of the phone which has been in place for 20 years. In fact, when you have a look at, say, the Queensland TAB, the net bet product is through your telephone account, so the only difference is instead of picking up the phone and placing a bet, you tap it in on your keyboard and place a bet. There is little difference.


JOHN TAYLOR: The Greens Senator, Bob Brown, says he will consider how to amend the government’s ban on Internet gambling in order to protect the racing industry. Is that enough or would you like to see the government itself take some action in this regard?


STEPHEN SHARRY: I would think that it is the responsibility of the government to turn around and say that it’s made a mistake. It didn’t do enough research and it was ill-informed of the impact of the legislation. The other issue is that Australia has seen an incredible drain of wagering funds, hundred of millions of dollars a year going to overseas gambling houses on horseracing, such as Vanuatu. That money does not get paid back to the horseracing industry and it does not go back into government coffers as far as taxes are concerned, so what we are actually doing is forcing people who want to use the Internet to bet, to go and bet offshore so the industry does not gain one cent from that wagering exercise. To me, that is ludicrous.


PETER CAVE: Stephen Sharry from the Brisbane Turf Club.