This space never needs an excuse to lower the tone but reading the Indecon report is rather like a Wonderbra: you leave the club with Jordan and when you get home Kate Moss pops out. The anticipation was definitely more exciting than the reality.
When he was first appointed, Minister Simon Coveney had the potential to be the sort of blank slate that might peer into racing’s dark political morass and conclude the only way to sort it out was to scrap the crap and start afresh.
Unfortunately, only rarely does someone with a taste for radicalism make the cabinet table. Coveney talks the talk, looks well in a suit, and can deliver someone else’s speech well.
But you don’t get to that level of politics without being able to peer into a morass and feel like you’re coming home. Any hopes of a root-and-branch review were clearly naïve.
At least one reality though has been tucked and taped into solidity by Indecon: us ‘schmos’ who can be filed under the tag “punters” have been put in our place. And that place is to pony-up and shut-up.
Of course the usual cant is in the report, you know, about every effort being made to cater for punters, and how they are vitally important, blah, blah, blah. And there is no doubt punters are important – just not important enough for government to insist on catering to their interests in any meaningful way.
Instead what we get in Indecon’s seventy-nine pages of mostly stating the bleedin’ obvious is a shuffling around of the usual suspects.
Numbers are recommended to be cut on boards here, a greater say for government there. There is the big doozie of a recommended one per cent betting tax which in itself seems reasonable enough but which has the potential to send Betfair & Co reaching for the heavy legal artillery so probably will get fudged somewhere along the way.
So in many respects the headline bit is that the Turf Club is going to have to squeeze into HRI HQ and try not to disrupt the natives too much. OOH – RAD.
Such scepticism will be dismissed by most within the bloodstock game. After all, they are only interested in the money. And Indecon’s proposal for a uniform one per cent tax provides that. The pay-off for government will be jobs and a certain prestige.
So everyone’s happy – owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders, and everyone else within the horsey tent. They don’t care where the funding comes from as long as it’s guaranteed.
Considering everything in Indecon is predicated on tax from betting turnover, there is a remarkable ignorance of how Irish racing as a product is viewed by the casual, couch-bound, telly-watching punter with a phone account and a laptop – you know, the future. They simply don’t trust it. And if they don’t trust it, they won’t bet on it.
Of course that doesn’t matter to those within the tent because if there’s guaranteed funding, it doesn’t matter what generates it. That’s the flaw.
Self-interest is a great motivator and there is nothing proposed anywhere in Indecon to encourage Irish racing to clean up its act and put an emphasis on the only meaningful input punters want which is policing the sport properly.
At last week’s press conference, the Indecon spokesman insisted the independence of the integrity services must be preserved. Their recommendation is that instead of annual budgets the Turf Club be given guaranteed budgets for between three and five years.
But when asked about the possibility of increased budgets, the response was Indecon had got no indication that this was required – which makes one wonder who exactly they spoke to.
Only those with an agenda believe the integrity services are working properly. Only those with an agenda believe there is even an illusion of treating everyone equably. Only those with an agenda believe any priority is being put on regulation at all.
Continual budget cuts are just one sign of how far down the list of priorities the integrity services are which has an obvious impact in terms of quality of service but even more so in terms of the message it sends out to punters.
Stewards are supposed to be on the ‘schmos’ side, the ones theoretically looking out for our interests. If they are being constantly undermined financially, then in effect it is a slap in the face to punters, no matter what aspirational rhetoric appears between the covers of a report.
And so it will continue: those inside the tent taking the cash as their due, those of us outside forking it in. Plus Ca Change.