Facing the hard realities

Monday, January 30, 2012

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So far as this newspaper is aware the only fundamental thing that has changed in relation to Jamaican horse racing over the last two years is that the Government has changed.

However, as this newspaper understands it, the horse racing calendar for 2012 was decided before the December 29 general election.

So it seems safe to say that the nation's change of political leadership is not the reason local horse racing authorities have resumed what the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) describes as the "Sunday Horse Racing experiment".

For those outside of the horse racing loop, yesterday was the first time in just over two years that a race meet was being held on a Sunday at Jamaica's official horse racing venue, Caymanas Park. Other Sunday racing days are scheduled for June 10, July 8 and December 16.

Horse racing followers will recall that two years ago, after just two events, Caymanas Track Limited (CTL) abandoned the attempt at Sunday racing to the satisfaction of the JCC which was, and remains, fundamentally opposed to gambling in all its forms.

Then CTL director Mr Chris Armond said at the time that while the support at Caymanas Park was good, the "turnover could not help us to pay all our bills... on the day".

For the "turnover" to be adequate, off-track betting parlours would have had to be opened on Sundays in tandem with the race events at Caymanas Park. In that respect nothing has changed, so it is unlikely that the CTL will be expecting to make a profit this time around either.

It would appear that the CTL returned to Sunday racing in the desperate hope that the new Government -- no matter from which party -- will be bold enough to approve off-track betting and even more fundamentally amend the law which currently prohibits such gambling on Sundays.

Horse racing interests say the industry, which currently employs thousands, urgently needs the additional revenue which can be had from off-track betting on Sundays, in order to grow.

Predictably, the Government of Mrs Portia Simpson Miller has said it needs time to consider the issue.

Inevitably, the JCC has come out strongly yet again, repeating religious and morality-based reasons as to why Sunday racing and off-track betting should not be allowed.

But it would seem to this newspaper that on this issue, the JCC's hand is weaker now than it has ever been. As we understand it, Sunday racing, complete with off track betting, is a global and growing trend. Indeed, we are told that Sunday is now the top horse racing day globally. Bear in mind also that a large and growing number of Christians worship on Saturdays, which has always been the biggest horse race betting day in Jamaica, outside of public holidays.

Given the circumstances, we agree with racehorse owner Mr Alex Haber, who is quoted in the Sunday Observer of January 8, as saying "Who is Jamaica to say that the church is going to object to races on a Sunday, when, all over the world, Sunday is the biggest race day..."

More to the point though, the Simpson Miller Government must look to the economic bottom line.

In a frighteningly harsh environment that will only get tougher in the months ahead, the new Government is scrambling to fulfil its election promise of more jobs for Jamaicans. It seems to us that it can ill-afford to ignore the promise of economic stimulation and increased employment that will come with horse racing and off-track betting on Sundays.

The Church often reminds us that 'man shall not live by bread (food) alone'. But as we all know, without food man will not live at all.




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