IT’S the $1 billion sell off that could change the face of punting in Western Australia.
But the big question is, will it happen?
The Western Australian State Government is hoping to secure the monstrous figure, but revelations that front runner Tabcorp is being probed by the Australian Federal Police over bribery allegations have thrown a spanner in the works.
The AFP is investigating Tabcorp over business dealings in Cambodia in 2009 and 2010.
The government had kicked off its move to sell its wagering operation in February.
But credit Suisse analyst Larry Gandler has told News Limited that he believes the government may postpone its sale efforts until after the storm has blown over the TAB – with the investigation tipped to take up to two years.
“Tabcorp, some would say, is critical to the WA government securing a full price,” Gandler said.
“We therefore believe that the WA government may consider delaying the tender of this licence.
Former Tabcorp boss Elmer Funke Kupper, who ran the giant during the investigation period, has already stood down from his role as the head of the Australian Securities Commission. The Tabcorp board member has already stood down from that role as well.
Reports out of Fairfax Media allege Tabcorp was being probed over a payment, understood to be $200,000, it made in 2010 to a consulting company that had links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hung Sen’s sister.
It is alleged the payment was made in a bid to help it claim an online gaming licence in the country.
If that wasn’t bad enough for the state’s sale plans, it also appears the state’s racing industry bodies might remove their support for the sale after a letter from Barnett told leaders to basically pull their heads in.
The Western Australian Racing Representative Group (WARRG), which represents the three racing codes in the state, is set to go against the sale.
The group wants stringent conditions included in the sale and framework moving forward to ensure the future of the three codes and ensure it gets a fare slice of the dividends.
And it is concerned that the government won’t allow it to lend its expertise to the sale process.
“It adds a whole new level of risk and uncertainty to the process because obviously the Government isn’t expert in the area of the racing industry,” WARRG chairman Michael Grant said.
“The racing industry has only ever sought to assist the government.
“We have never proposed or attempted to take control of the process or dictate the process.
“Without the product that the racing industry provides, there is no value to the TAB.”
WARRG wrote to Barnett a couple of weeks ago after he rejected its hopes of being involved in the sale.
But Barnett has told Grant, in another letter, that the sale will be conducted by the government alone.
“Your understanding of the racing industry and views about the allocations of proceeds from a sale are appreciated however, as I made clear in our meeting and which I have made clear in the media while the Government seeks to work with the industry on these issues, it is the Government that is responsible for the sale process,” his letter stated.
“While this will be a challenge to get though the Parliament in 2016, as I indicated in our meeting, it does not stop the Government consulting on the issue, being informed of views and undertaken analysis to better inform a sale process.”
Barnett also compounded industry fears that one of the two major metropolitan race tracks in the city could be in trouble.
“I have made clear the view of the government that two metropolitan racing tracks are not sustainable and the latest request for funding from Perth Racing for an upgrade to Belmont is evidence of this,” he said.
Whoever wins the bid – if it actually happens – is set to be on a seriously good wicket.
Racing and Wagering Western Australia figures reveal that the TAB poured in one $165 million into the state’s racing industry last financial year.
The government is swimming in debt and is pushing to sell the TAB as part of its asset sale program, in a bid to make ends meet.
On its website, the government says the TAB “provides online and retail outlet wagering services throughout Western Australia. The TAB is currently part of Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA). As well as operating the TAB, RWWA is responsible for overseeing racing within Western Australia, which includes fostering development and ensuring the integrity of racing through the regulation and supervision of racing in Western Australia. RWWA distributes a percentage of the net profits it receives from the TAB in order to support the racing industry.
“The racing and wagering industry has changed rapidly over recent years, with the increase in corporate bookmakers and online and sports wagering. The TAB has operated successfully in Western Australia, and this has resulted in a strong racing industry. However, the consideration of a sale of the TAB provides an opportunity to address the likely challenges that will arise in the future.”