A Coe Liberal government would deliver a multimillion-dollar annual funding boost to Canberra Racing Club by handing it a share of revenue from the ACT's wagering tax.
The racing club's boss said the funding, which would be in the order of $2.3 million based on this year's estimates, would protect the local industry's 440 jobs and help it grow the sport's $54.5 million economic contribution to the ACT.
But Labor said now wasn't the time to channel more taxpayer funds into horse racing, as it warned extra money for the industry would mean less spent on health, education and emergency services.
The Liberals haven't publicly announced the commitment, but have outlined their position in a response to questions the racing club put to the major parties ahead next month's ACT election.
In the questionnaire, seen by The Canberra Times, the parties were asked if they would provide the club with a share of revenue collected through the ACT's point of consumption tax.
The 15 per cent wagering tax, which was introduced in 2019, applies to revenue generated by companies through bets placed in the ACT, as well as bets made by ACT residents.
The ACT is the only jurisdiction which has such a tax but doesn't pass on any of the revenue to its local racing industry. The Labor government has instead provided funding to the club under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, which amounted to $6.54 million in the past financial year.
In its response to the club's questionnaire, ACT Labor said it would continue with the current funding model if elected on October 17.
But the Canberra Liberals said a Coe government would hand the racing club a slice of revenue from the wagering tax, which would be broadly in line with the 20 per cent share paid out in NSW. They would also renew the existing MOU with the club.
The wagering tax generated an estimated $11.5 million this financial year, meaning the club would have been handed about $2.3 million under the Liberals' proposal. The tax was expected to rake in almost $15 million by 2023-24, meaning the club's share would rise to nearly $3 million.
The ACT government had expected the tax to only generate about $2 million a year when it was introduced, but that figure has been far surpassed amid a surge in online gambling. The government last month insisted the extra revenue would be funnelled into the territory's coronavirus stimulus packages.
Asked to explain the commitment, Liberal gaming and racing spokesman Mark Parton said the extra funding would protect existing jobs, help to create new ones and support the club's commitment to participant and equine welfare programs.
"After an extraordinarily tough year, we need to do everything we can to get the economy back on track to keep people in work," Mr Parton said in a statement.
Stressing his organisation was apolitical, Canberra Racing Club chief executive Andrew Clark said the Liberals' promised funding would be a major boost for the local industry.
"We are just merely looking to secure the best we can for our industry and the best we can is to match exactly what is given to other racing industries throughout Australia," Mr Clark said.
"What we are asking for is not unique."
Mr Clark said in addition to protecting jobs and economic activity, the annual funding boost would help to cover the cost of maintaining facilities at Thoroughbred Park. It would also allow for minimum prize money from races in the ACT to be brought in line with NSW, and provide extra funding for equine and participant welfare programs.
Mr Clark warned of the potentially significant consequences for the local racing industry if it was continued to be denied a share of the wagering tax revenue.
"It would place those 440 jobs at risks as you would see leakage of our industry across the border to NSW," he said.
"It would also threaten the loss of economic activity, not to mention the social fabric as well. Both Labor and Liberal have recognised the importance of thoroughbred racing to our community, not only through the economic mechanisms but also the social benefits."
An ACT Labor spokeswoman said that amid the COVID-19 economic downturn, the option of handing more taxpayer funds to the racing industry was "not the best course of action". The spokeswoman said the racing industry received more than $7.7 million in taxpayer support annually, with a sum of about $30 million to be provided over the next four years under the existing agreement.
"Additional taxpayer funding for the racing club is not the highest priority at this time," the spokeswoman said.
"There are much more pressing priorities for the community. Any additional funding would have to be taken away from health, education community and emergency services."