It’s been a long time since I got down to write. Its just that I’m disgusted and depressed by the way our sport and industry is staring down an abyss with no end in sight. Multiple problems many heaped upon us and many self inflicted are hurting racing as a sport.
RWITC has had yet another regime change as Owner/Breeder Khushroo Dhunjhibhoy takes over as chairman. Here’s wishing him the very best as he takes over the crown of thorns that the job actually is. Until now nobody has understood that RWITC has a bloated bureaucracy and it’s the politicians (Committee Members) who take the flak. Their recently retired secretary Mr. B Engineer was a good man but he leaves behind a legacy that he oversaw the fall of what was once India’s premier race club. BTC showed RWITC it’s place in the industry when they had a Mexican Standoff over the betting royalty issue last year. RWITC had to back down as they just couldn’t afford to take on BTC as they frankly lacked financial clout. Hopefully some fresh thinking is applied by the new committee and I pray that we see RWITC do well. As they say hope springs eternal and as a person willy nilly entwined in Thoroughbreds as a profession and life one hopes Indian racing thrives.
As I sit here and write, Bangalore Turf Club is currently in the process of attempting to play chicken with the most powerful person in the state of Karnataka ie the Chief Minister. The CM wants the membership expanded by 150 from the current 350 to 500 and of these he wants 50 memberships to be given at his discretion. The membership of BTC has for the lack of a better term told him to FO and as a result BTC has been sitting without a license for about a month. Pertinent to note here that a majority of those club members have no connection with racing itself, so we have people sitting in judgement with pretty much a don’t give a damn attitude as regards the sport itself. The fallout; BTC is losing Rs. 25 Lakhs in revenue PER DAY! In the off season race clubs put away money as they don’t have to part with stake money which is a large part of costs when live racing is on. A new committee under V Harimohan Naidu has taken over and let’s hope they’re successful in sorting out the tangle they’ve got themselves into.
The most depressing thing to happen to our industry was the imposition of a 28% GST on tote turnover. What the government did was akin to kicking our industry in the nuts with a steel toe boot. The saddest part of this is that it’s been done to us by a bureaucrat who sits in North Block, who’s never visited a racetrack or a stud farm. I met the man and asked him exactly this, he just thought since our sport is gambling and his perception of it comes from some crappy Bollywood flick, so let’s hit these people hard as they’re a soft touch. It’s perceived to be a rich man’s indulgence so let’s bleed them, it’ll look good to the masses. He never took into account syces, employees and thousands who earn a living from the industry. It’s apparent that the entire GST seems to have been brought into force without actually studying or learning about industry. I Saw a story today on the news how cheap wedding pagris have been classified as hats and levied 18% GST which has brought sales down by 50%.
Hyderabad Race Club was doing a phenomenal job with their tote, they took their turnover from Rs. 600 Crores to Rs. 1350 Crores in 5 years, something to be lauded. As a result of the insane take out rate they’ve seen their turnover crash by a mind boggling 80%.
The current dispensation in power as the Central Government is quite possibly the single worst for the economy in the History of India. The Indian economy is tanking exponentially and the tinkering attempted by those in power has been a catalyst in pretty much throwing it under the bus. Horse Racing should be left as a state subject which it actually was. Suddenly for the first time in the history of our sport we’re paying the Central and State Government tax in equal parts. No one understands that in a very under the radar manner the centre has managed to take over a number of the federal powers of the state governments. My home state of Punjab had a shortfall of Rs. 800 Crores in revenue in the first month of GST.
Racing is a very complex sport with many essential limbs and the ugly truth is that our finance comes from gambling and gamblers. The government thinks a high tax will discourage the “sin” of gambling, all that it does is push all the betting underground to illegal bookmakers. So in effect the volume being bet is exactly as it was just that the government has penalized those who were trying to do business the right way, a lower takeout means a higher turnover and more revenue for the government but then logic is never a deciding factor for our leaders.
The draconian 28% takeout has pretty much destroyed the totalizator pools as punters head towards legal and illegal bookmakers all of whom cheat on tax as they don’t pay the 28% that the clear as crystal tote must. The somnambulant nature of our clubs is clearly seen in the fact that up until now there hasn’t been any movement whatsoever towards setting up a national tote. Since the takeout rate of 28% is now uniform for all clubs this could help stop the bleeding just a wee bit. Historically pool based bets are all about volume, the bigger the pool the more people want to get involved, however high the takeout rate might be. As a racing nation we’ve pretty much seen the club system keep us in complete stagnation. Our levels of stakes are poor, our facilities whether for horses or audience are in dire need of an overhaul. World over more than 80% of betting handle comes from off track sources, in India we still follow a system by which we pack the punter into the racecourse. We’ve missed the internet bus too as online games like rummy and poker have used the historic 1996 Supreme Court judgement by Justice Kuldip Singh to great advantage to rake in the cash on online gaming. Considering that judgement was specific for racing our satraps at the clubs have sat on their rears and done zip.
A positive development has been the appointment of a real sportsman in Olympic medalist Rajyavardhan Rathore as our Sports Minister. The previous minister Vijay Goel actually asked us whether we have “tournaments” in our sport when we went to meet him. This is the understanding our government has of our sport which is the largest live attendance spectator sport in India. It’s time we get together and represent ourselves professionally. We are an industry but not recognized by the government as such. We’re involved in a purely pastoral and agriculture activity as stud farmers but aren’t treated as agriculturists. We employ a huge number of people but that too is glossed over. One hopes something gets done and done soon or else we’re heading for a mighty tailspin.