RITA was counting on a 2019/20 net profit of $165.8 million – but did they expect being nobbled by a virus?

According to a Stuff report:  New Zealand might be in lockdown but at a time when problem gamblers are at their most vulnerable, the TAB and online gambling sites are open for business.

Might be in lockdown?

We wonder where sports writer Mat Kermand was when he wrote that sentence as a prelude to a somewhat huffy article about taking bets not being listed as an essential service.

Kermand noted that under level four of the Covid-19 scale – which says “only businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life”  can operate – the TAB can trade online because it can run its business with staff working remotely during the Coronavirus outbreak.

He went on:

Lotto is also available online only and overseas gambling and gaming websites are not restricted by New Zealand law despite it not being illegal for Kiwis to use them.

PGF Services entered the narrative with spokesperson Andree Froude calling on all online gambling services to step up their host responsibility, because (apparently) the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis off work, unable to leave home, with excess spare time on their hands, will be to blow whatever money they can struggle to find in these straitened times.

“For people who struggle with addictions things like this … stress, anxiety, this is a trigger for people who are susceptible,” Froude said.

PGF Services?

Ah.  They used to be known as the Problem Gambling Foundation, but that gives people a pretty good idea of what they actually do, so they changed their name to something more cryptic.

The Totalisator Agency Board has changed its name, too – it became the New Zealand Racing Board (established under the Racing Act 2003 to operate the TAB, promote the racing industry and “maximise the profits of the industry”).

Then there was another change.  On 1 July 2019 , it was reconstituted as the Racing Industry Transition Agency “to lead and deliver a programme of change to transition the New Zealand racing industry to a financially sustainable future”.

As the board’s 2019 annual explains, the creation of RITA included the formation of a new governing body, appointed by the Minister for Racing (Winston Peters is the incumbent Minister).

RITA retains the existing functions of the NZRB, including TAB Trackside, the largest live sports broadcaster in the country and the ongoing operation of the TAB, New Zealand’s only licensed betting agency. The TAB is a major entertainment business with more than 220,000 active TAB account-holders and a retail network consisting of almost 580 outlets. Every bet placed with the TAB makes an integral contribution to the growth of racing and sport in New Zealand and the livelihoods of the many thousands of Kiwis involved in racing and sport.

Words like TAB, New Zealand Racing Board and Racing Industry Transitory Agency – just as they do with PGF Services – camouflage the nature of the business they are in.  In this case, it is to run a statutory monopoly for New Zealand sports betting.

The board also has an obligation under the Racing Act to regulate and improve the New Zealand racing industry and to schedule the racing calendar to maximise profit.

Financial results for 2018/19 showed net profit before distributions to an array of sporting and racing codes was $136.7 million, down $9.2 million (6.3%) on the previous year and $36.8 million below the budget of $173.5 million. But the board was confident it would deliver on its forecast net profit in 2019/20 of $165.8 million.

The annual report says:

The 2019 year saw significant investment that will set the business up for the future. We invested heavily to ensure our betting and broadcasting businesses provide customers with a world-class experience and as a result, increase funding for New Zealand racing and sport.

Chief executive John Allen said much of the focus for 2019/20 would be implementing the government’s legislative agenda.

This requires a suite of regulations to give effect to new revenue streams established for the benefit of the industry under the Racing Reform Act and the preparation and introduction of a further Bill which will progress other reforms recommended by the Messara review.

Getting this in place is critical to revitalising the industry and providing participants the encouragement required to invest with renewed confidence but success depends on everyone in the industry getting behind the change that is necessary to deliver the future.

As the organisation prepares for its next phase under a new CEO I look forward to watching the TAB grow and prosper. I am confident it is on track to make racing one of New Zealand’s great success stories again.

Then the virus struck and – according to another Stuff report,

Coronavirus is threatening to bring down the TAB, which has asked for a cash injection from the Government so it can keep operating.

RITA chief operating officer Stephen Henry gave “a dire forecast for the racing industry’s betting arm” in an address to staff at TAB headquarters in Lower Hutt last week.

He said the cancellation of sporting events would cost the TAB $14 million and that, along with a $3.8 million error over bonus bets, would result in both the half year and full year projections taking a big hit.

“It’s serious enough that we have briefed Government today on what it means for us and how they can help and that includes injecting cash into the business so we can continue to operate.

“So far the Government has been “responsive but not definitive”.

Henry told stunned workers that everything was being done to minimise its operating costs including:

* Using fewer cameras at race meetings, doing away with Trackside presenters on course, sending fewer production staff and not operating betting totes.
* Cutting a wide range of expenses like travel and overtime – “we should have cut the sausage rolls today.”

But wait.

Stuff has also reported that punters gambling on some obscure overseas competitions could hold the key to New Zealand sports organisations staying afloat amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

RITA head of public affairs Ian Long confirmed that some new options to bet on have been introduced to help fill the void.

“We are looking to increase our coverage where possible both into sports that we have not traditionally covered to any great extent (eg volleyball and table tennis) and into additional leagues/competitions for mainstream sports such as football and basketball.”

The likes of basketball’s Russian Super League or football’s Super Lig in Turkey could therefore hold the key for organisations like BBNZ or New Zealand Football to still see some money trickle in, if punters somehow got the urge to engage with those competitions.

Here at Point of Order, we suggest some other betting propositions.

The number of times in a day and/or week when the PM urges us to be caring and/or kind, for example.

Or the sum that will be dished out from the Provincial Growth Fund next time an announcement is made.

Combine this with bets on who makes the announcement and where it is made, and we have a trifecta.

Readers are invited to submit further possibilities.



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