Western Australian Government Paves Way for TAB Sale

The Western Australian government is paving the way for the state’s TAB to be sold. It passed a bill that will see the sale of the last publicly owned business of its kind in Australia.

Government official created the TAB (Disposal) Bill 2019 enabling it is start the sale process, which is expected in 2020. The Bill is subject to Royal Assent, but nobody expects any hitches or anyone to oppose it. In short, the WA TAB allows players to legally bet on sports and racing online.

How Much Will the TAB Sale Fetch?

Talks of a potential sale surfaced five years ago. Initial figures put a price of $200 million to $1 billion on the TAB business. The most likely price, according to business analysts, is in the region of $500 million. The new legislation demands thirty-five percent of the net proceeds go the Racing Infrastructure Fund in Western Australia, benefitting smaller racecourses and tracks. A new women’s and maternity hospital receives the remaining 65 percent of the TAB sale.

Operational costs of the racing sector, helped by the 35 percent of any TAB sale, will be further assisted by a 15 percent tax on bookmaker profits.

The Western Australian racing industry is struggling and welcomes any cash injection. There are 37 clubs in Western Australia and 22 of those run between one and three meetings per year. Bigger, better-known tracks such as Ascot and Broome draw in large crowds. Smaller, more remote venues just do not attract enough punters.

Several Amendments to the Betting Control Act 1954

A number of amendments to the Betting Control Act 1954 have had mixed responses. A new licensing regime is being introduced that replaced the existing TAB system. According to reports only one license will be active at any one time.

The licence, once awarded, runs for 40-years with the option of a two-year extension. Under its terms, the licence holder needs to arrange provision of funding to the racing industry.

Racing Western Australia (RWA), the new name for Racing Wagering Western Australia, welcomes the new legislation.

The RWA said in a statement “The passing of the bill means there is now the appropriate legislative framework to negotiate the sale of the TAB and support the Western Australian racing industry, ending years of uncertainty,”

“Since 2003, RWA has operated the TAB with the goal of maximising returns to the racing industry, the transaction phase aims to continue this commitment by selecting a suitably qualified and capable wagering operator through an open market process.”

Amendments to the Betting control Act 1954 allow for license holder to conduct fixed-odds and other betting on races / events. Simulated racing is also allowed. That last point has caused something of a backlash from social service groups.

Will TAB Sale Lead to Pokies in WA?

A historically bipartisan ban on virtual gaming machines is set to be eased, but some say this paves the way for the state to introduce pokies. The amendments allow virtual racing machines like “Trackside” by Tabcorp.

The relaxed laws are worrying Chris Twomey, WA Council of Social Service policy and research leader.

“The state parliament has knowingly voted to increase gambling harm in our community. The suggestion that this product has more in common with genuine racing than pokies is a farce. Just like the pokies, simulated racing is an electronic gambling machine; the odds are generic and the winner is randomly generated.”

Twomey added, “Trackside describes itself as having ‘the simplicity and payout characteristics of numbers games such as Keno’ – a product the government ironically recognises does not belong anywhere in WA outside of the casino.”

Ben Wyatt, the WA Treasurer, said the government had found the right result for both the industry and broader community. Wyatt also said comments by social service groups were “over the top” before reaffirming the government’s tough stance on pokies.