John Allen resigns
By Michael Guerin
The man in charge of the New Zealand racing industry says he has chosen to resign and was not pushed because of a looming poor result for the TAB.
John Allen has announced he will step down as the chief executive of the Racing Industry Transition Authority (RITA) in December after nearly five years in charge.
RITA was previously known as the New Zealand Racing Board but most people know it better as the TAB, which is New Zealand’s only domestic betting operator for racing and sports.
The racing industry has struggled in recent years as race stakes have remained stagnant while costs continue to rise, affecting the number of owners and horses being bred as well as seeing some of the leading young trainers head to the greener pastures in Australia.
One of the greatest criticisms has been the former NZRB’s inability to significantly increase its returns from gambling to the racing industry so race stakes can increase, which has a trickle down effect through the industry.
Allen and his executive team have overseen the purchase and launch of a new Fixed Odds Betting platform, which while it should ultimately create more turnover, especially from sports bettors, has been more expensive that budgeted for.
That has outraged some in the racing industry who are concerned about the ratio of returns to racing compared with the salaries and expenditure at the TAB, or RITA as it is now known.
And that angst could increase in November when the Herald understands the TAB’s annual report will show a drop in profits.
While Allen won’t be drawn on the exact numbers he admits there will be a reduced profit but says that is not the reason he has resigned and he was not pressured by the new RITA board.
“This is my decision,” says Allen.
“I have been here over four years and I only ever intended staying for five so the time is right.”
While some in the racing industry will scoff at that statement it is in line with previous timelines Allen has given the Herald as to how long he intended to stay in the chief executive role.
“I think the time is right because some of the key projects we have been working on are now in place, like the FOB and and a lot of the legislation recommended by the Messara report is close to being finalised.
“So as we move into a new phase for New Zealand racing I think the time is right to look for a chief executive who has skills and experience in some of those areas.” Allen, 58, admits he is disappointed his organisation could not create better returns for the racing industry but says several of the key factors were out of their control.
“We have had decreased turnover because of the disruption to punters when the new FOB platform came online but that is a one-off that won’t happen again and we had a tough period at the end of last year with margins, but they have since bounced back.
“But I also think the racing industry hasn’t been helped by delays in securing the money we could have had from Race Fields legislation and some of the other extra revenue we expect to come online.
“I am not criticising anybody for that because since we expected that money to become available we have had a change of Government and the other legislative changes don’t happen quickly.
“But the racing industry could have really done with that money.” While he has spent 16 years as a chief executive in three different roles, Allen admits the intimate nature of the racing industry, in which he has met so many people personally, provides some unique challenges.
Which is a nice way of saying, in racing, when you are the boss, you are going to cop a fair bit of personal abuse.
“But that is part and parcel of being involved in an industry this size where people are so passionate in challenging times.”
Allen believes the new RITA board, who now run the industry at the appointment of Minister for Racing Winston Peters, has a very good balance.
“It is a very experienced, highly-skilled and diverse board with a lot of racing knowledge so I think the industry is in good hands.
“And I am sure they will continue to investigate possibilities around joint ventures because we are a small operator in a very large, dynamic market.”
Allen says he has no plans to look for another job until after he has enjoyed his summer break and joined a racing club.
“I want to stay involved in racing so I will still be going to the races and I think one of the first thing I will do it become a member of the Wellington Racing Club.”