Saturday Night is going to be historic for Indian Racing as the lights go on at Mahalaxmi. India finally gets night racing after many years of talk, kudos to RWITC for biting the bullet. The genuine hope is that it will be a game-changer for the sport. Unfortunately the bitter truth is that you can pack in a million people but if they aren’t betting on your product the crowd is simply just a number.
Currently RWITC is burdened by a draconian tax regime and unfortunately the Maharashtra Government refuses to look at empirical evidence from other states and countries and lower the current 20% tax that that they charge on betting turnover. Due to their government’s stubbornness the state of Maharashtra is losing a lot of revenue. Government sloth, red tape and screwing the club just because they have the power to do so seem to be the reason. The result has been that almost all betting on RWITC racing is unfortunately through illegal channels. So, the club gets cheated, the state exchequer gets cheated, the tax paying citizen gets cheated and the entire racing and breeding industry, ie owners, trainers, jockeys, employees, breeders etc. are all forced to make do with crumbs instead of a fat loaf of bread which the real revenue being accrued is but it’s all benefiting nobody except the bookmakers. Horse Racing is India’s only legal form of gambling and it’s a state subject. In other words the State Government gets a fat chunk of money for simply licensing a jurisdiction to conduct racing at no cost to them and the money earned stays with the state government. Hong Kong, Japan, France, USA are a few countries that come to mind where the government behaves more like a partner than taking the adverse and obtuse stand Indian state governments take. The result is that these countries’ governments earn millions if not billions of Dollars from the sport and this money is used to fund welfare schemes and to plug their budget deficits without asking their citizens to part with extra taxes. Maharashtra needs to snap out of their stupor and come up with a sensible taxation structure, at present they get about 20 Crores annually from racing, properly structured this figure could well be 2000 Crores. The other thing unique to all these countries is that they have a Pari Mutuel (Tote) monopoly and their betting turnovers are well accounted for. The crazy government tax apart, RWITC would do well to half their 10% commission to 5% for the evening fixtures as an incentive for people to bet with the tote. They could also take only 12% instead of the crazy 24% that they are taking out of the jackpot too in order to swell the pool. A guaranteed 1 Crore pool would encourage a lot of non regulars to try the jackpot, which is a bet that has never been used to its potential by our clubs. It ought to be linked with a lottery and tickets need to be sold statewide, broad-basing it would exponentially boost the pool in our densely populated country.
Racing and breeding is a green industry, the racecourses are very important to the ecology of their cities too. Take Bombay for example, the racecourse is a huge green space with old trees, greenery all around and open spaces. The whole of South Bombay comes here to walk, in the rainy season the area occupied by the racecourse absorbs large amounts of rainwater as it isn’t a large concrete and asphalt structure, apparently the flash flood other parts of Bombay had a few years back was because there was nowhere for the water to go due to rampant and mainly illegal construction, tragically many died as a result in the ensuing chaos. Most of our stud farms are located in rural areas and provide thousands of permanent jobs; they further utilize far less resources than intensive agricultural farming as prevalent in India does. A green industry providing lots of jobs and revenue, sounds like a winner yet we fail to project that aspect. Indian racing unfortunately is the best kept secret in the world, we ran our first race in 1777 but yet we are absent from Mass media. 24 hour news channels will regurgitate crap on the hour, every hour but racing is never part of it. Not many would know this but when it comes to live audience on site I’m pretty sure that racing would rival cricket in India, yet whenever it comes to getting out there to get our sport more eyeballs and getting our message across we fail. There is a huge curiosity factor among many when it comes to racing but our clubs rarely ever understand that they need fresh innovations to attract more people through the turnstiles. Night racing could well be this massive innovation, the last time something like this happened was when Vijay Mallya and the UB Group introduced the concept of sponsorship to Indian racing in the 80s, he changed the dynamic and money on offer in Indian racing. Well, that took us into the new millennium but since then we have stagnated badly and our product is stuck in the past, just see the live coverage our clubs put out on the net its boring and mundane, nobody is making any effort we’ve simply got used to going through the motions.
Evening/Night racing will bring along other required innovations into the sport. Hospitality comes to mind straight away, while this isn’t a problem at facilities like Bombay and Calcutta I shudder to think how Bangalore Turf Club would handle hospitality at such an event. Look at how Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup Carnival, The Arc de Triomphe weekend, Dubai World Cup Night, The Breeders Cup etc. are done, it’s all about dressing up and going out to have a good classy time, do a little bit of betting but the focus is on having a good time. Racing is a lifestyle sport and to encourage the upper middle class to embrace it we must have a proper strategy in place, it must be swish and stylish, a place where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous. I doubt it’s profitable to own a Formula 1 team but the uber rich do spend millions on what is simply a passion. The reason for this being the exposure that the really rich get from that sport, similarly IPL team owners are attracted more to the glam quotient than anything else. You can be loaded and buy yourself a Ferrari but then again any run of the mill rich guy with nil class can. Now, can you win a Derby? You can spend millions and still not succeed. Money no doubt can shorten the odds for success but it never guarantees success in racing, thats the romance of it, one plus one never equals two. People like Shiven Surendranath (Velvet Rope), Gaurav Sethi (Alaindair) and Ms Rajamma (Super Storm) can win an Indian Derby with the first horse they ever owned, yet it took Dr. MAM Ramaswamy decades in racing and crores spent before he ever led in his first Indian Derby winner in his own colours. Packaging the product is going to be extremely important, good food and drink and a genuinely classy experience is absolutely necessary, with this innovation the RWITC is entering completely uncharted territory, it goes toe to toe as an evening entertainment option with the bars and restaurants all over the mill area and South Bombay. I hope for the sport’s sake as well as all the hard work that has gone into making this happen that RWITC have a professional event manager handling things for them. The Invitation was a poorly run show and one really hopes that this time around we’ll be spared the shit fest that was offered up on that week. This must be a classy affair with quality catering, entertainment for the entire family especially kids so that Mom and Dad can gamble in peace, proper places to sit and off course an amped up atmosphere. They are up against efficiently run setups like Blue Frog, Hard Rock Cafe etc. this time around, we must give the Mumbaikar a better experience so that the racecourse becomes THE default entertainment option for everybody, it needs to become a beehive of action packed racing and top drawer entertainment. Honestly the open spaces and parking available at the Racecourse are both massive USPs in a congested urban slum like Bombay. Every top city in the world has a quality racecourse, Bombay is blessed to have a facility that is world class in every way, in the 60s, 70s and 80s Bombay embraced it, it’s about time it happened again.
So Indian racing takes a huge step, this IS going to work to get the footfalls no doubt but it’s about time we started looking at proper revenue generation from betting too. RWITC fancies itself as India’s leading racing jurisdiction, unfortunately their stake money structure is superior only to ramshackle Delhi Race Club while the cost of keeping a horse in training in Western India is exponentially higher by a factor of three as compared with Delhi Race Club. So here we go, best of luck RWITC, one hopes to attend the next Indian Derby at 8 pm, win it and pop Champagne at the racecourse itself and party into the wee hours of the morning!!!