Covid-19 forces NZ Racing Minister to extend RITA board terms

5 June 2020

New Zealand’s Minister for Racing Winston Peters has extended the terms for the directors of the body overseeing a root-and-branch overhaul of the country’s racing industry until 30 June, 2021.

The Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) was due to be dissolved from 1 July this year, when point the Racing Industry Bill, which was filed in December 2019, had been due to come into effect.

However progress on that bill - the second part in a two-step process that saw the Racing Reform Act implemented from 1 July 2019 - has stalled as the country’s lawmakers focus on responding to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

As RITA is likely to be in force for a longer than anticipated period, its directors’ terms will now end once the Racing Industry Bill is enacted, or on 30 June 2021, whichever comes first.

The directors will therefore be able to continue to work on developing and strengthening governance and operational structures of the sector, Peters explained.

“It is crucial that the directors continue to offer their extensive expertise and experience during this extended transition period to help make the racing industry both more prosperous and sustainable,” Peters said.

“In the long term, when we get all the steps correct, there is no reason why racing in this country cannot be a viable, world class industry.”

The Racing Industry Bill establishes TAB NZ as the sole racing and sports betting provider in New Zealand, as well as forming the Racing Integrity Board to ensure all competitions under its control are free from corruption.

It is the second part of a two-stage process, with the Racing Reform Act implementing a point of consumption tax for offshore operators and overhauling the race fees structure. That act also allowed for RITA’s establishment, replacing the previous governing body, the New Zealand Racing Board.

This process is designed to ensure horse and greyhound racing in New Zealand can be run sustainably and profitably, though the sector has suffered badly from disruption caused by Covid-19.

While harness and greyhound racing resumed in May, with thoroughbred racing to follow on 3 July, it’s betting arm the TAB has seen activity plummet. RITA noted that monthly revenue had fallen almost 50% below original forecasts in May, with customer numbers dropping 35%.

This in turn saw it lay off 30% of TAB staff, some 230 permanent and part-time positions, and close four betting shops.

“We knew from the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis that the racing industry was facing an unparalleled crisis in its history,” Peters said of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

“The racing industry is seriously underestimated for its important contribution to our regions and our economy, and getting the reforms right is pivotal to the economic recovery of all of New Zealand.”