Murray Bridge Racing Club still waiting for Gifford Hill bet to pay off

On the up: Events coordinator Rebecca Hewings and secretary John Buhagiar remain optimistic about Murray Bridge Racing Club's future. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
On the up: Events coordinator Rebecca Hewings and secretary John Buhagiar remain optimistic about Murray Bridge Racing Club's future. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

"Build it and they will come", goes the mantra.

After spending more than 10 years on the first part, Murray Bridge Racing Club is still waiting for the second.

Its new, 650-seat function centre is too often empty, the new suburb which was supposed to surround it has not yet materialised, and as the anniversary of its move to Gifford Hill approaches, the club is feeling the pinch.

It approached the Murray Bridge council last week to ask for relief from its $50,000-per-year property rates bill, four times what it had paid at its old site.

Although horse racing could be a lucrative industry for bookmakers, the same was not true for the club, secretary John Buhagiar told councillors.

It was a not-for-profit organisation with a volunteer committee and only a handful of employees, he said, and did not run at a big surplus.

"Our on-course turnover is shrinking alarmingly because people can bet on their phones - it's not turnover that comes directly to our club any more," he said.

"There'll be days when we have the TAB on course that we don't turn a profit any more, but it's a service people expect us to have."

Selling the residential and equestrian allotments around the racecourse would not help, he said - the proceeds would only pay off a $37 million debt to the investors who had bankrolled the racecourse and function centre.

But Mr Buhagiar told The Standard he remained optimistic about the future.

"When you're starting from scratch, it doesn't happen overnight," he said.

"A lot of those (event) clients are repeat clienele, so it's about building those relationships."

The club has hit highs - 70 staff were required on Gold Cup day - and has more on the way, including several conferences, its first wedding booking and the development of an outdoor space capable of hosting markets and other functions which once filled the betting ring at the old racecourse.

On the track, the success of two Saturday race meetings it hosted in January - turnover was up 40 per cent against last year, when they were held at Gawler and Morphettville - had positioned it well to bid for more meetings in future, he said.

"If we can play a part to help (Thoroughbred Racing SA) out with that, we'll put our hand up all the time," he said.

The council has not yet decided whether to grant the racing club's request.

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