The Australian Competition Tribunal (ACT) hearing on the proposed $11 billion Tabcorp-Tatts merger kicked off in Melbourne in bad tempered fashion on Tuesday.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) huffily rejecting the suggestion by Tabcorp that it was “taking sides”.
The two-weeks of hearings will ultimately decide whether the merger, which is largely supported by the racing industry, can go ahead.
But there is opposition to the tie-up from some quarters, not least Racing Victoria, Crownbet and Racing.com, who have lodged objections on the grounds that the deal would reduce competition for wagering licenses and media rights for racing clubs.
Tabcorp Attempt to Have Opposing Testimonies Dismissed
In a preliminary hearing last Thursday, Tabcorp attempted to have these objections ignored by the tribunal. Tabcorp’s senior counsel Cameron Moore said that the three parties were only objecting because it suited their own commercial interests rather than looking at the benefits to the industry and to the public as a whole.
Tabcorp has said that the expected $130 million in cost savings that will be realised following the merger would create more resources to go into the funding of racing bodies and extra pooling for parimutuel betting.
The ACCC, however, claimed in its report, that the perceived public benefits of the merger may have been overstated by Tabcorp and, in fact, it could actually end up being a “detriment to wagering customers.”
This is probably why Moore on Thursday accused the ACCC of being in the “same camp” as the three official objectors.
“It is clear that there are two camps: the Tabcorp/Tatts camp, and the ACCC/adverse interveners camp,” Moore said.
Tabcorp’s request to have the objections ignored was dismissed by Justice Middleton, presiding, and on Tuesday the ACCC lambasted the company for accusing it of being partisan.
Claims Without Foundation
“By casting the ACCC as its opponent in its submissions, Tabcorp appears to misunderstand the role of the ACCC in this matter,” it said. “Further, the assertion by Tabcorp that the ACCC has engaged in speculative theories of harm is pejorative and without foundation.
“The ACCC is the only party to the proceeding without a vested interest in its outcome,” it emphasized.
Tabcorp took the unusual move of withdrawing itself from the ACCC’s informal review process and headed straight for the ACT in search of approval for the merger.
The ACT is typically the last for resort for proposals that have been already vetoed by the ACCC, but Tabcorp believed that the move would speed up the process and allow the racing industry to voice its support.
While things may not be going exactly as it had planned, there are still two weeks left of presumably largely positive testimonies to hear, with a decision expected on June 13.