Finally the Punjab racecourse project is back online. The Punjab Infrastructure Development Board took out an ad in the papers asking for bids for the proposed project that is to come up near Ludhiana which is Punjab’s largest city.
This track will be very different from any other in India as this will be launched as a pari mutuel or totalisator pool wagering set up. No bookmakers will be part of Punjab racing, something that is the norm in every country where the sport is thriving; Japan, Hong Kong, France, South Korea and USA just to mention a few. Another important aspect of the project is permission to set up Off Track Betting (OTB) sites in the entire state. We in India are still going on with an archaic way of running the sport like the erstwhile, “Great” Britain. The British left us with a racing setup similar to what they envisaged as to what racing should be. Seeing where English racing is vis a vis other places, we have backed the wrong horse, the stakes paid out in UK are a joke, on par with RWITC and Delhi; yes, that bad.
Unfortunately neither our government nor our racing administrators understood that the organization of any sport must evolve with time. Take British Football as an example if the old system sans the Premier League was still operating, I doubt very much that worldwide the game would have got the exposure it has today. If Test Cricket was the only form of the game that was played by now a large chunk of it’s fan base would have eroded. Introducing new formats like ODIs in the late 1970s and now T20 has grown the sport’s fan base exponentially.
Indian racing needs to get its act together, I’m extremely critical of the club system as it stifles progress. See the state of affairs at RWITC or the mess that Madras Race Club became the past few decades under the aegis of an overly powerful chairman. To start with, it’s very apparent that racing is directly dependent on the attitude of the state government. The entire Punjab project has been conceived by the State government after a lot of discussion and trying to understand exactly what is required. Without the government’s encouragement and help our sport cannot thrive.
Our clubs lack the clout and will to engage with our state governments. With the right kind of policies by the government, the racing industry could be contributing at least 10 times more in taxes than what it is today. Our structure is archaic in so much that today’s racing in India is all about packing people in to the racecourse. Most of the wagering too happens on course, the world over in modern racing set ups 83% of wagering comes from off track sources. Racing is a business and governments need to understand that charging arbitrary tax rates like Maharashtra does, causes wholesale damage to the ecosystem that racing exists in. The standard takeout the world over is in the region of 20-21%, this includes the racing jurisdiction’s commission as well as government levies. Here most state governments are antagonistic about racing as our misinformed lawmakers and bureaucrats think of it only as gambling, not as a source of employment and revenue. These same governments run lotteries which they advertise aggressively, it’s new year time lots of, “New Year Bumpers” are taking place now.
Governments need to understand that horse racing and breeding is like any other industry and we deserve a better deal, we create rural jobs, our endeavour is ecologically green and we contribute richly to state exchequers directly and indirectly. An example is our farm; the economy of Sarainaga village to a great extent runs on Dashmesh Stud Farm, these men and women are getting proper employment with remunerative salaries right at home and as such don’t need to shift to cities looking for work. Take the state of Kentucky in the United States of America as an example; the estimated annual economic impact of the horse industry in the state is $4 Billion. The horses generate 80,000 to 100,000 jobs in the Bluegrass state. We had a study done in India and found that our industry generated 3.3 Million man days of employment.
We need to professionalize the way our tracks are run, a simple example is in surface management. Not one club has taken on board a qualified professional turf expert who curates and looks after the track surface, the result is a loss of race days when it rains and loss of revenue. The exact same malady effects our training sand tracks too, the result is more injuries and soundness issues.
Similarly our clubs have failed to promote the sport in a general sense, we missed the boat on Television and similarly we have missed the boat on social media as well. We need to engage a whole lot more people than we are on Facebook and Twitter. Horse racing as a whole does not exist in mass media. The weekly programme that is the sport’s only regular presence on TV is so badly made and scripted that it causes the sport more harm than good. Even the picture quality that racing is broadcast in is in non HD format, the camera work is poor and the picture quality poor, HD quality production is now the norm rather than an exception the world over but not one of our clubs have even thought of upgrading.
We must learn to package our sport a whole lot better. The arbitrary fashion shows that we see at RWITC often are cheaply produced and look as such, more akin to a, “mujra” than a classy affair. Racing or rather any sports event must be comfortable to attend, the lifeblood of the sport is the punter who comes day in day out to bet on racing, do any of the clubs provide them with proper amenities like clean toilets, comfortable seating and decent food and drink? The answer to that is an emphatic no and that is wrong because no business should take their customers for granted. Our clubs spend more time pampering their members rather than think about the customer who brings them the moolah on a daily basis. There is a serious need to improve things for the common punter. I hear HRC has opened a new Off Track Betting centre on the Tank Bund which is supposedly quite nice and comfy, all our clubs need to be thinking about things like this.
Everything we do is arbitrary and ad hoc in nature. While sending our racing pictures to betting shops in England and from what I hear Australia, was a progressive move but poorly executed as we have absolutely no idea as to what the product is worth, the figure arrived at was with no proper calculation, as such we sold a product without knowing how much it was worth. The argument that it was money for jam and something we weren’t getting earlier just shows how poorly clubs conduct their business.
As a sidebar I’m glad RWITC and BTC were able to resolve their signal and commission imbroglio. As I had mentioned what would happen in my previous blog, RWITC lost a lot and BTC lost a negligible amount in the whole scheme of things.
Hopefully a fresher outlook from a new run for profit racing jurisdiction will show us the way and help our sport come out of it’s Nineteenth century mindset. Let’s hope we in Punjab are able to show Indian racing the way ahead and maybe just maybe the industry reaches the heights that our sport deserves to.