Merger hits another hurdle

Merger hits another hurdle


Terry Butts analyses news from the North Queensland racing scene.


The much anticipated merger between Tatts Holdings and Tabcorp Group has hit another hurdle – and the snake in the woodpile is said to be Crownbet.

The merger has been under a cloud since the two appeals by the ACCC and  CrownBet were lodged in July, according to a Fairfax report, but Tabcorp has consistently told shareholders it was “committed to the transaction” and confident of delivering the deal.

Those with a passion for racing and its survival can only hope Tabcorp is right, and that commonsense will in the end prevail.

Of course, CrownBet welcomed the court's ruling on Wednesday asking the ACCC to reconsider the merger.

"The merger is bad for competition, bad for punters and not in the public interest," its chief executive, Matt Tripp, trumpeted.

It could also be said Crownbet and its corporate colleagues are bad for racing, bad for punters and certainly bad for public interest.

To use racing parlance Crownbet should be charged with causing severe interference and given life. And the ACCC should be charged with failing to perform on its merits, sometimes known as running and handling.

Crownbet, along with bloodsucking colleagues – the corporate bookies – should have absolutely no say in the matter and would be doing the racing industry of Australia a great favour if they simply packed up and vanished.

Tabcorp chief executive David Attenborough told investors the year had been “strategically important” for the company, and the hefty investment in its campaign to take over Tatts was worth any risk the regulators might knock the deal back.

The combination is expected to deliver at least $130 million per annum. It has been widely reported Tatts and Tabcorp hoped the merger would make them strong enough to expand globally, compete with international bookmakers and bid for wagering and lotteries licences overseas.

Fairfax reported last week that with the exception of Racing Victoria and Crownbet, every racing state and associations including jockeys and trainers has supported the merger, saying it could lead to a national TAB, turn Australia into one of the most profitable racing jurisdictions in the world and realise an extra $50 million a year for the racing industry.

“The merger is a long awaited realisation of a dream from forward-thinking racing authorities who as far back as the 1960s could see the advantages for employment, prizemoney and growth,” wrote Patrick Bartley in The Age.

He added: “The ACCC has reservations but not ruled out a merger between both gambling houses. 

“Just years after Premier Henry Bolte introduced the TAB to Victoria it took little time for those in the industry to toy with the notion of a workable, national TAB.

“Across Australia the advantages of such a TAB has slowly gained momentum.”

He said while the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had reservations, at the same time he did not rule out the merger.

The highly respected Bartley called on the chairman Rod Simms to get his head around the nuances and advantages of having one healthy, strong TAB, our gambling industry will finally be on terms with countries across the world.

Coincidentally Rod Simms was financial adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke who it is said played a helpful role in the first Australian offshore betting licence being granted in Vanuatu several years back. You might wonder how Bob Hawke now thinks of the infiltration of the corporates into the Australian racing landscape. And the deleterious effect that it has had – and still having.

A refusal of the merger between Tabcorp and Tatts would see racing prizemoney fall to UK levels, the  of Racing and Wagering Western Australia chief executive Richard Burt told the tribunal.

He said the funding of racing in Australia, which is among the most lucrative in the world, would shift towards the UK model where corporate bookmakers dominate and prizemoney is poor.

Australian owners, trainers and jockeys compete for almost $400 million more in prizemoney each year than their British counterparts.

"You can see how the market is going to unfold," Mr Burt told the tribunal. "If the TABs don't remain competitive, I believe you will end up with more of a UK-type model. And when corporates get a hold of the customers en masse, as evidenced by the UK, you will find racing will decline.”

It just elementary dear… judges.

A no brainer.

WE have our QRIC cops decked out in the latest spy gadgets, videos and hidden microphones etc., and we now await the use of drones to catch illegal activities in stables.

In Victoria last week a trotting trainer was fined $2000 after he was caught on film by a drone as he drenched a horse on raceday at his Mildura stable. Brian Sybia pleaded guilty... well he was caught red handed... but his defence claimed it was an invasion of privacy.

He parked a car across to his stable gates to block access and had his horse hidden from roadside view, said stewards.

But it didn’t stop the drone from capturing the drench on film.

In a letter last week from Queensland Trainers Association, members were warned or advised of the latest detection techniques. One wag responded with ‘‘based on the known competency of QRIC it is doubtful they would know how to get a drone off the ground… I think we are safe”

Well safe at the moment because it is not legal to procure evidence by drone in this state. But be assured that will change.

TOWNSVILLE course proper got the thumbs up from riders who rode in two trials (three horses in each) last week and all is set for the reopening on Thursday. The meeting was to precede the club’s AGM but that was surprisingly and suddenly cancelled on Monday for several reasons (mostly due to constitution discrepancies) and no new date has been announced for the AGM.

Embarrasing, but just a little more bad news for TTC on top of the shock resignation of long time and highly competent staffer Sue Wehlow, who has really run the office since the resignation of Michael Charge and the entire TTC committee late last year.

One piece of encouraging news over the weekend was that on course stabling is back on the agenda. There is a veiled reference to the much-needed facility in the RQ Infrastructure Plan announced at the weekend. The relocation of the greyhound track was also mentioned along with an expansion of the Cairns on course stabling complex.

But no one is taking it seriously. We have heard it all before and, in case you are not aware, there is an election looming.

THE winner of a minor race at Ewan last weekend was Around The Moon, but it was his jockey who was well and truly Over the Moon when he scrambled over the line by the barest of margins.

It was the former Brisbane boom apprentice Aidan Holt’s first race ride in two years. The horse carried 65kg – Holt has “blossomed” in retirement to a healthy 63kg so there was no dead weight needed.

 But Aidan says the gut busting effort was worth it.

“I have never been so glad to see and reach a winning post,” and admits the Ronnie Finch trained galloper pulled up a lot better than he did.

“I rode in the same saddle on which I rode my first winner. But I was 51 kilos then,’’ he beamed. In a short but highly successful career the boy from the Burdekin rode 103 winners and 163 minor placing from 607 rides and $1.6m in stakes. Incredible.

The winners are always grinners but there were some melancholic moments at the Twin Hills meeting that clashed with the two days of Ewan.

That grand old galloper Mishani Gladiator won the Twin Hills Cup as an odds-on favourite but there was no joy. He crashed into the starting stalls on pulling up and had to be put down.

According to an unofficial eyewitness, his jockey Emma Bell lost control of the horse in the final 100m of the race. “She lost the inside rein and then jumped off 20 yards from where the starting stalls were parked on the track,” he said.

Mishani Gladiator won 14 races and was placed 25 times for $288,000. He deserved a much better fate, and I am sure we haven’t heard the end of it.   


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