Wednesday, April 3, 2013



By Andre E Baptiste



                         -------LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD – PART 1 ---------


In the early 1990s, horse racing was shifted from a turf surface to a sand surface primarily to facilitate year round racing since racing was being centralized and it was widely and correctly believed that a turf surface, in the Caribbean, would not stand up to year-round racing.  One of the main reasons for this of course was the weather and the pounding of the hooves which, over time would result in uneven patches on the track unless extensive maintenance was undertaken.  We see the wisdom of this decision today, through the frequency with which scheduled turf races have to be cancelled due to the poor condition of the surface, suggests that enough proper measures have not been established to correct this awful tale of quality horses being injured on the turf surface. Perhaps some more concentrated work on this surface by persons with adequate knowledge and experience would assist.

Unfortunately, while that move was taken to level the surface (so to speak), Trinidad continues to chase the curve ball when it comes to truly leveling the playing field on which horse racing is being asked to compete. 

This analogy is most appropriate and truthful  when we look at the competition that the Arima Race Club ( ARC)  has to contend with from the private member clubs and the  many private bookmakers in this country.  Unless and until those in authorities (also known as the government here in) decide that they will deal with this situation, rather than condone the practices by ignoring the obvious and taking no noticeable action, the reliance on their coffers will not improve significantly.

Procastination is one of the worst sins of any administration and those that look after the affairs of horseracing in this country are rightfully fed up of the excuses and false promises. Perhaps the New Line Minister Vasant Bharath is the man to bring change , or perhaps not, only time and performance will tell.

First of all, let us examine  the situation with the private members’ clubs.  Everyone in this country knows that casinos are illegal in Trinidad and Tobago.  Everyone in Trinidad and Tobago knows that the definition of a casino is a public place that accommodates certain types of gambling activities.  Everyone in Trinidad and Tobago knows that to avoid being labeled a casino and therefore being illegal, the phenomenon of a private members’ club arose. 

As a private club, they are not open to the public and so therefore lie outside of the definition of a casino and as such, are not illegal.  Over the years since the legislation was implemented, the number of private members’ clubs has exploded from low twenties to maybe triple digits.  Everyone in Trinidad and Tobago knows that is a farce.  Any member of the public can visit a private members’ club by simply becoming a private member at the point of entry.  Since everyone knows it is a farce, how do we interpret the Government’s “increasing” of the levy charged on the tables at the private members’ club. 

Does that mean that successive governments were not aware that they were implicitly condoning the flagrant flaunting of the laws of the country.  The question is for what reason?  Since there is no obvious reason for casinos to be illegal (those on the religious right notwithstanding, particularly those attending St Charles Roman Catholic Church in Tunapuna), and everyone knows that private members’ club are really casinos, and the government is prepared to increase the taxes on their activities, why not just lift the ban on casinos?  There must be a hidden reason  Is there a vested interest in keeping “casinos” banned so as to allow private members’ club to flourish?  If so, someone needs to ask the question “whose vested interest?”

Leaving that question aside, because there will be no “honest” answer, the current reality is that the Arima Race Club cannot get a “license” to be a casino and cannot disguise itself as a private members’ club so it has to compete on an uneven playing field with casinos, sorry, private members’ club.  These clubs pay a tax based on the number of tables while the Club pays tax at the point of sale.  We will discuss this some more below but the point is that the more tax that is paid, the less the promoter will have available to offer to the gambler as winnings.  The math is obvious, even for a kinder garden school child.

With respect to the bookmakers, the issues and uneven playing field are even more egregious.  First of all, while the bookmakers add the 10% tax to the cost of the bet placed by the punter, the Arima Race  Club deducts the 10% from the cost of the bet placed by the punter. 

Proper governance, a transparent and equal tax regime and adherence to all of the laws of this land are required before the playing field outside of the running rails can be leveled.  The final question is who will have the strength to bell that cat?

:: PART 2 will be next week




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