NZ First risks regional backlash against racetrack closures

Winston Peters has marketed himself as a champion of the regions, and Shane Jones has similarly promoted himself as such – see ‘Champion of Regions’: Jones holds true to title – with his billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund handouts.

But one of Winston’s biggest hobby horses (and possibly one of his biggest benefactors) is the racing industry. And he is now proposing a radical plan to close a lot of race tracks around the regions and centralise them in three big cities. This is both a clash NZ First priorities, and a risk of backlash.

RNZ: Plan to cut 20 race tracks ‘gamechanger for industry’

The racing industry is facing two choices, significant change or death, says Racing Minister Winston Peters.

Mr Peters has released an independent report by Australian racing expert, John Messara, that concludes the industry is in a state of “serious malaise”.

The report recommends include almost halving the number of tracks and outsourcing the TAB’s commercial activities to an international operator.

Mr Peters said the racing industry was at a tipping point from which it won’t recover unless it took on on board all the reforms put forward by John Messara.

Officials will produce a Cabinet paper from the report’s 17 recommendations, which Mr Peters said was a chance to change the fortunes of the industry and push the reset button.

Mr Messara has proposed reducing the number of tracks from 48 to 28 and Mr Peters said that will have to be a reality if the industry wants to turn around its dwindling profits.

“Every region will retain a race track. There just won’t be the proliferation right now which in stark contrast to a big industry like New South Wales, has far more race tracks. It just doesn’t make any logical sense,” Mr Peters said.

What may be good for the racing industry may not be seen as good for the regions who lose their race tracks.

Taranaki will lose two out of three of its race tracks if the recommendations go ahead.

Taranaki Thoroughbred Racing board member and judge Ron Stanley said racing was getting incredibly more competitive and that required top facilities and cutting back the number of tracks.

“I think it’s a brave decision, we should have been doing it a few years ago. We’ve always had too many tracks”.

The towns who have tracks that may be closed may think differently.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry also backed the proposals which he described as a “gamechanger for the industry”.

“One of our biggest issues is we can’t spread the amount of money we have across 48 venues and improve the sport. So we need to consolidate our spending and make sure we’ve got a number of venues that have good race track surfaces and good customer facilities so that New Zealanders can enjoy the great things about New Zealand thoroughbred racing,” he said.

Centralisation in big cities has been a feature of the ‘neo-liberal’ reforms that Peters has been scathing of (for political purposes, I don’t know if he believes it).

But Peters is putting the racing industry ahead of the regions.

The Provincial Growth Fund will stump up the cash – expected to be about $15 million – for the tracks that Mr Messara has recommended building in Awapuni, Riccarton and Cambridge.

Mr Peters said taxpayers will accept that cost because racing “isn’t just about people turning up at the track in their Sunday best” – it’s about an industry that employs tens of thousands of people.

So he is championing an industry over people in the regions. He and the racing industry are going to pick winners and losers.

I’m not sure how well regional taxpayers and voters will accept that cost if it takes their tracks away.

“We will ensure that every region retains at least one track so there is racing there. And we will consult with the industry on these tracks that are to be closed. But we have to change, even if it is unpopular.”

Peters the prince of populism is prepared to push policies that may be unpopular in many regions – neo-liberal reforms of the racing industry means more to him for some reason.

And – it’s interesting to see how Peters intends using the Provincial Growth Fund to fund NZ First policies over and above what was negotiated in their Coalition Agreement.

ODT report on the winners and losers in the south in Seven race tracks face closure

In his report he recommended thoroughbred racing at Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Omakau, Winton and Gore should cease.

Mr Messara recommended Wingatui, Ashburton, Ascot Park, Cromwell, Waikouaiti and Riverton hold race meetings in the lower South Island.

Closing Oamaru, Timaru and Gore while retaining Waikouaiti seems odd. I arrived at the Waikouaiti races this January to find out they had been cancelled due to track conditions.



  1. Blazer

     /  August 31, 2018

    You have provided only the pro argument for adopting Messara’s recommendations.

    Where is the con argument to back your assumptions…or is it just a gut …’feeling’?

    • PDB

       /  August 31, 2018

      The big story is this: “and outsourcing the TAB’s commercial activities to an international operator.”

      So this govt is wanting to hand over all TAB activities to an Aussie gambling company? You can’t make this stuff up!

      • At the same time Shane Jones is attacking Australian owned banks.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  August 31, 2018

          Closing the regional banks is a disgrace and shows Aussie contempt, despite the fact they have low patronage and are losing money.
          Closing regional race tracks is necessary because they have low patronage and are losing money, so you’d be stupid to keep them open.

        • Blazer

           /  August 31, 2018

          attacking them for gouging huge profits out of NZ and reducing services to provincial NZ.

          • PDB

             /  August 31, 2018

            Yet just below you want to hock off the TAB to the Aussies & close many provincial tracks because that will create more money!

            • Blazer

               /  August 31, 2018

              do you even know who owns the tracks?

              They can keep them open…if they can get horses to race there and provide all that entails…if the monopoly is ended.

      • Blazer

         /  August 31, 2018

        its a logical move.Australian racing is way more attractive to NZ punters and they are the lifeblood of…racing.
        Pools in Oz…e.g Melb Quaddie $1mil plus every Sat as against $50k NZ pools are an example.
        Adopting Aussie tax treatments of revenue will also provide extra funds.

        ‘Sources have told Newsroom that the big gambling companies in Australia have proposed giving the industry an up-front cash payment and more money, said to be $100 million over 25 years, if they get the licence to control betting on NZ races. ‘

        The TAB has a virtual monopoly and has the usual over paid ,underperforming malaise common in such entities.

        • PDB

           /  August 31, 2018

          Spinning like a top there Blazer…

          NZH October 2017 “Peters said the sell off of New Zealand interests to overseas buyers was the “continuing story of this country’s decline since the 14th of July, 1984”.

          • Blazer

             /  August 31, 2018

            I stated facts…you can not apply that statement to every single economic activity in NZ.
            Peters means property and resources.
            Most of the public care little about the racing industry.

            • PDB

               /  August 31, 2018

              Peters means whatever you want him to mean Blazer.

            • Blazer

               /  August 31, 2018

              What do you really know about NZ Racing?…very little by your comments.

          • PDB

             /  August 31, 2018

            You mean to say NZ Racing is the only thing you know something about?

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  August 31, 2018

            Short man speaks with forked tongue, Pants.

  2. Pickled Possum

     /  August 31, 2018

    How would Winston really know the value of community if he never lives in one.

    Why have 20 economic race track failures?
    When you can have 4 economically thriving ones.

    • Blazer

       /  August 31, 2018

      ‘How would Winston really know the value of community if he never lives in one.’

      what on earth does this mean?

  3. PartisanZ

     /  August 31, 2018

    This looks like the real PR 1080 drop … so I went in search of the pre-bait ‘feeder’ PR drop … NZHeraldo 22 May 2018 might be it …?

    “New Zealand’s racing industry was responsible for generating more than $1.6 billion in value-added contribution to the New Zealand economy in the 2016-17 season … [and] was directly responsible for sustaining 14,398 full-time equivalent jobs across the nation. This total represents the employment sustained within the industry, as well as … in supply industries who meet the demand created by racing industry activity … In total, there are more than 58,100 individuals who participate in the New Zealand racing industry as employees, participants or volunteers.

    Many of these people enjoy gainful employment of their specific skillset where they may find limited opportunities otherwise – particularly in the breeding and training/racing related disciplines. Furthermore, many participants hold more than one role within the industry.

    In 2016-17, breeders in the New Zealand racing industry spent more than $380 million on the production of racing stock … More than 614,600 attendances were recorded at thoroughbred, harness and greyhound race meetings in New Zealand.

    Racing also plays a strong role in the community … Over 400 community organisations or charities are assisted financially by the 117 racing clubs and more than 300 community organisations share racing club facilities and resources.”

    It certainly won’t be the first example of industries being “bailed out” since neoliberalism introduced it’s indoctrinaire* ideas like ‘free markets’ and ‘a level playing field’ …

    If it’s good for provincial bank branches its gotta be good for racing … right?

  4. Blazer

     /  August 31, 2018

    people in racing know a big shake up is needed….just not in their…town.

  5. PartisanZ

     /  August 31, 2018

    Popular thread huh?

    One of the most poorly considered topics I’ve read in a long time … About as one-sided as it’s possible to be … A “Get Winston Peters, Nail Shane Jones” topic … There’s SO MUCH MORE to consider here (even based on general knowledge … no heavy research) …

    First and most importantly, while this can disingenuously be typified as an example of ‘neoliberalism’ it is more appropriately described as the result of neoliberalism. An example of compensating for neoliberalism. The decline of the Racing Industry is directly related to the so-called de-regulation [read “re-regulation”] of the gambling industry in NZ. It’s ‘globalization’ if you will …

    The con-verse side of neoliberalism is, of course, the growth of a compensational* Charitocracy (to attempt to maintain axed or under-funded government services, and to create compensatory employment). Racing is clearly a major contributor of funding to The Charitocracy … NZ’s Social Services Funding Popularity Contest.

    Secondly, some of the ancillary economic ‘benefits’ of racing should not be discounted. It’s tie-up with gambling makes it arguably the original ‘economic addiction’?

    Thirdly, and not to be underestimated IMHO, is the ‘cultural’ and ‘heritage’ aspect of horse racing. It is a foundation and key component of English/Pakeha ‘culture’ in this country, not to be allowed to die lightly … [and certainly never to be “put down”] …

    4) While gambling is [still] regulated by government, the racing industry is certainly not a “socialist” enterprise, is it? These are RECOMMENDATIONS to an industry that’s essentially ‘private’ … although, like many industries, racing has strong ‘community’ and government connections and considerable influence upon government … [many industries do not acknowledge their ‘community connections’] …

    5) RadioNZ appears to have found ONE dissenter – WRC’s Gray Eatwell – in the ranks of the racing industry, who otherwise appear to universally support the RECOMMENDATIONS … which RNZ rather dubiously describes as a “plan” … to cut 48 (or 52) venues down to 28 …

    6) “Every region will retain a race track. There just won’t be the proliferation right now …”

    What ISN’T self-explanatory about this statement [in the Media Release that everyone including RNZ is publishing]?

    7) A quick look down the right-hand side of RNZ’s website where this Media Release appears – and it does not include any comment from Gray Eatwell – shows how the ‘issue’ has been ‘seeded’ in the media for some time now …

    “Making NEWS … out of nothing at all … ”

    In a nutshell, the current government is going to “save” yet another industry that previous governments’ policies have damaged or eviscerated …

    The real question is: Why don’t they do this for every industry they eviscerate?

    Plenty of people with specialist skills in other industries had to retrain and change industries. Why not racing industry people?

    • Blazer

       /  August 31, 2018

      I can tell you that the influence in TB racing at least is weilded by the big breeders .
      The writer of the report owns one of Australasias biggest and most successful…he actually used to be a stockbroker.

  6. Guy Waldron

     /  August 31, 2018

    Racing in the provinces is not all about racing,Its about community events and gatherings ,in declining rural communitys.If these meetings are making money,especially if they are annual events,why close them?They should not be scapegoats for clubs that do not make profits.
    Don’t kick the rural communitys in the guts,by cutting some of the few community events,in rural areas,when in reality,they are a large percentage of the productive sector in New Zealands economy,propping up it’s urban counterparts.

    • Blazer

       /  September 1, 2018

      racing struggles to be viable though.

      You need owners with bottomless pockets…the stakes are way less than they were years ago,and costs are increasing and the new generations are not interested.

      Track attendances are very modest compared to the halcyon days of the 50’s and 60’s.