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By Mahendra Mallya | 13 Nov 2016 | MUMBAI

Mr Vivek Jain

The managing committee of the RWITC is on a war footing. The state of affairs of the Club, even before our honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji took the nation by surprise with the de-monetisation announcement, had been in a turmoil. This recent development has further pushed, not only the Clubs, but the entire racing fraternity into a tizzy. The RWITC will have to get its act together at the earliest and this is easier said than done. However, the managing committee has no dearth of talent, what with several astute and experienced minds coming together in a huddle to stand by the Club and do whatever it takes to steady the rocking ship. Understanding from the Chairman’s own words, every individual stands united in facing the crisis and steering the club out of the choppy waters. Indiarace, in an exclusive Q & A with Chairman Vivek Jain, who perhaps is at the helm at the most critical time for the Club, would like to impress upon our readers the gravity of the situation and the Club’s tough measures in tackling the rough times ahead. Excerpts from the interview with Mr Jain.    
1.       How will the recent move by the Government to demonetise high denomination currency impact the racing fraternity.
It will seriously hamper racing's finances. Ours is a cash transaction based business as is all over the world. The absence of legal tender will virtually freeze our major source of income, overnight. 
2.       Racing being the only sport where the Government recognises and allows cash betting, do you recon there would be special status accorded to ensure smooth flow of cash bets?
I doubt Government will make any exceptions in the present environment. That would be wishful thinking. Though I do feel a brief representation ought to be addressed as this a financial emergency for all clubs. 
3.       It is learnt that the Club may be forced to reduce the stake money for certain handicap races, is this true and what do you think the repercussion would be.
The RWITC debated this at length two days after the de monetisation announcement. The figures of the potential loss arising out of sharp reductions in tote commissions, fixed odds betting income, mobile phone revenue, gate receipts, bookmakers’ stall fees and inter venue royalty were alarming. As a short term interim measure the only options were to cancel racing (in view of the direct loss) or to carry on racing my minimising the hit.  Also cancellation would hurt the prep races for the classics. Hence as an emergency measure it was decided to pay out 50 per cent of advertised stakes and review the situation after the first four race days. 
4.       What are your plans on streamlining the financial health of the club?
Several. Introduction of a VRS scheme, freeze all salaries at current levels, cut salaries on case to case basis , reduce owner incentives, cut costs on estate, cut costs on post-race sampling, as some measures .  Others include potential revenue from bookmakers, through the stud book, license fees of professionals, sponsorships, settlement with entities with dues to the club, international broadcast rights, monetising non-core assets etc.  This will take months to spin off and show results but is engaging our full time attention. 
5.       Is there are change in the structure of trainers’ fees?
It was proposed but has been deferred for now. We will meet the trainers when they move to Mumbai. The trainers have to show some support to the club in such a serious situation. 
6.       Has the Club managed to retain the sponsors for all the Indian Classics?
Yes, that is one area of strength. We have done exceedingly well on sponsorships and on events on race days, in as much we are sold out on Sundays through the long season. 
7.       Is there any new addition to our list of sponsors?
Still working on it, but yes there are several first timers which you will see when the prospectus is out in a few days. 
8.       How do you see the forthcoming Mumbai season panning out?
The de monetisation has taken the wind out of our sails. The timing could not be worse as we had geared up for our best season ever, racing wise.  I remain optimistic, as without hope, we will be doomed even before we start. 
9.       What is the take on the bookmakers’ licencing and operating fees?
They just paid us over 3cr per year a few months ago. The RWITC committee agreed to make licensed bookmakers members of the club if they apply with certain caveats. In fact they have been more than forthcoming to help us, perhaps more than other important sections of the racing fraternity. 
10.   With the GST round the corner, how do you see its overall impact on racing?
GST remains unclear. Whether the tax will be on the gross bet or commission. Whether sin tax or cess will be levied. What will the rate be?  Will there also be a state levy? We have represented to The GST council and the finance minister and I have sought time to meet Mr Jaitley too. 
11.   As the sitting chairman and with your experience, what is your foresight and plan of action in piloting the RWITC out of the current crisis and ensuring a better year ahead?
We are addressing all issues as if we are at war. Each committee meeting runs into hours with unfinished items due to the several problems. I have met the owners, trainers, bookmakers, breeders. Another group is dealing with manpower. I am happy our committee has been handling the crisis unitedly and with no politics. That has been heartwarming. I am sure we will make a difference. The times are tough, but that is when your true strength has to surface. Give us some time and we hope these strong head winds will ease. 
12. With the land lease renewal to be addressed on urgent basis, is the club bracing up for much higher lease value that the BMC is demanding? What is the status on the above?
I have met the BMC Commissioner, the state Chief Secretary and both the Urban Development secretaries. The state cabinet has approved extension of leases, including that of the Mahalaxmi racecourse. We are not aware of the costs, but will take that up after the BMC elections due in February. We have enough on our plate now.