A cargo cult pervades greyhound racing

It all started in the late 1980s when SKY pictures of live racing arrived on the scene. It mattered little where you were, the pictures popped up all over the country — incidentally making regional and state boundaries meaningless to viewers.

That followed almost three decades of expanding betting opportunities as TABs boosted their product range and went to where the punters were. Pubs, social clubs and suburban TAB outlets came to the fore, racecourse crowds declined and with them bookmaker numbers.

Raceclubs which once spruiked to the local community and welcomed patrons to the track no longer had to bother, and many did not. Instead they got by with regular cheques from a distant TAB via their state authority. All this happened regardless of the quality of the racing they offered because, particularly from 2000 onwards, mug gamblers rapidly increased their influence. To them, only quantity mattered, not quality. Tabcorp, which controlled racing programs, wasn’t fussed either and proceeded to stuff as many events into every hour as they could, including from overseas.

All of which made raceclubs less relevant to the success of the industry sectors. Four legged poker machines were now everybody’s best friend. And the money rolled in — well, in smaller bits but it still flowed. You just had to sit back and count it. Ships laden with goodies were bearing down on every nook and cranny of the racing industry so all you had to do was to keep a neat house and goods would arrive. No charge and little effort — a classic Pacific Islands cargo cult was born, albeit one that actually worked.

With goods coming freely, it was no longer necessary for island communities to sow their crops nor for to raceclubs to cater for major maintenance or future capital investment — big brother would do that. Consequently, food soon became scarce and racetrack facilities became decrepit (something emphasised by more than one state administration, but particularly in NSW).

That made life difficult at times but it turned out that the bigger influence on prosperity was the disappearance of any sort of relationship between the customer and raceclub. Mind you, that was not a new trend. Back in the 1940s, annual reports show the chairman of the NSW Control Board (Norm Smith) had exhorted clubs to do more to promote their wares to the wider community, despite the fact they really lacked the resources to do the job. In any case, asking a string of local clubs to market the industry would have involved an inefficient use of funds. Not only did they lack the expertise but their customers now came from far and wide and were impossible to reach.

The more current trend of declining attendances (bar the occasional group) enforced a continuation of that scene. But while all this was going on, state authorities which controlled the cash failed to take up the slack.

At the same time, the removal of the interaction between local communities and greyhound racing meant a decline in knowledge. Members of the public had little idea of what made the greyhound tick or of how best to handle a bet on a race. Hence the current emergence of the mug gambler, often a refugee from the poker machines.

Fundamentally, this is why racing has been losing its share of the gambling market — from 50% some 30 years ago to around 10% now. People still patronise social clubs and pubs but their interest in wagering is spasmodic and driven only by tipsters and lucky numbers. Press a few buttons and out comes a ticket.

Equally, the long term fall in knowledge about the industry leaves the way open for special interest groups to campaign by making up their own stories and, for example, calling for a stop to all greyhound racing — and horse racing, too, in many cases. Their messages fall on a public which often has no particular interest in racing or wagering, save only for an occasional flutter as they pass through betting houses or notice an app on their I-Pad (note how Tabcorp TV advertising goes down that route now).

No wonder temporary CEO of Greyhound Racing NSW, Paul Newson, has claimed the industry’s financial structure is flawed to the point of non-viability. Of course, the previous board said the same thing, too. But neither has offered a meaningful solution, except for appeals to the government to correct some past errors and reduce taxation.

That would be nice but they are once-off changes and still ignore the basic issues — greyhound racing income is too small and not growing in real terms, and no-one is doing much about it.

The troops are starting to become aware of this. Perusing a blog recently, I noticed some words of wisdom from a trainer/breeder. Comments on these blogs are often self-serving and negative but this was an exception. Here’s a verbatim copy of what “Elsie” said:

“When was the LAST time GRNSW asked breeders to hire Martin place lunch time venue, to show off Greyhound pups, dogs & racing ?? That`s right, about 25 or more years ago. It is a sight with a big screen, perfect sound & safe areas can be set up for the pups. The same can be done in Brisbane, & Melbourne. No action to ever promote this industry to New people at Lunch time. Even the TABS could have a booth to take action on Lunch time meetings”.

To that I can add another example. Back in those days Uncle Ben’s used to run a specially built bus and conduct a roadshow around suburban shopping centres. Aimed at selling more dog food, the display featured half a dozen breeds, including some pups and usually a greyhound mum. The crowds loved it, especially those with kids. Unfortunately, Uncle Ben cut it out due to budget constraints and the like has not been seen since.

Similarly, in much the same period Queensland ran a Flying Amy Greyhound brand bus around the state to highlight the sport. Nothing much has happened since.

Anyway, that Martin Place venue is a winner. As a personal note I can tell you my daughter’s primary school band performed there once, attracting great interest and support. Many bigger gigs have worked as well.

The message is plain. Revenue is the big problem but to improve takings you have to go out and tell the public why you exist and how to take part. Sitting back and maintaining the status quo does not work. You either advance or you go backwards. Greyhound administrations have long failed to accept responsibility, preferring instead to just keep neat books and make impossible predictions in their five-year plans. In effect, they are sitting on the beach waiting for the ships to appear over the horizon.

I dare say with worthwhile changes and some effort the greyhound sector stands to increase income by 25% to 50%, thereby making a massive difference to its long term viability — to say nothing about returns to participants. Better marketing is an obvious course to follow, as is more professional public relations efforts. But the clincher would be nationalising the tote pools, thereby making greyhound meetings acceptable propositions for bigger punters. It would even increase tax income for state governments. Win-win-win.

PS: Years ago, I had considerable personal experience with cargo cults in New Guinea. They arose following WW2 after naive island villagers had noted how ship after ship used to arrive from far way to disgorge tons and tons of equipment, food and other supplies for the fighting troops. It ended up a debilitating experience for them. Now history is repeating itself.

Past Discussion

  1. I don’t think now would be the right time to be showcasing racing and gambling in Martin Place. I’m guessing you’d get lynched.

  2. I don’t think now would be the right time to be showcasing racing and gambling in Martin Place. I’m guessing you’d get lynched.

  3. Dezzey I dont think it would be a good time down here either especially if you tried to showcase any of wheeler ,bate,or hunt dogs there would no doubt be lynchings .

  4. Dezzey I dont think it would be a good time down here either especially if you tried to showcase any of wheeler ,bate,or hunt dogs there would no doubt be lynchings .

  5. Bruce,

    I have only listened to the current acting CEO of GRNSW who represents the Board as well and I got the impression that he was reflecting that greyhound racing apart from GRNSW did not have a collective voice (my words). When you read the patient which forms the delegations involved with the Special Commission of the Executive Council under the inquiry act it is noted that A B C are all involved with the breeding and training of greyhounds and whether regulations and controls can be introduced at a cost which will allow greyhound racing to be sustainable and make a contribution to the State.
    The voice that is missing is the breeders and trainers lack of cohesion as a professional group of greyhound traders and providers. There are historic reasons why greyhound racing has failed to produce a national industry group along these lines and this needs to be explored and fixed in my view. The above is apart from the wagering aspects which require integrity in the running of races.
    Trade in animals is not necessarily totally connected to prize money or wagering the trade is also involved with branding.
    The last time I looked the show dogs in NSW were producing 25,000 registered pups to our 6,000 and the average price per pup was about double the average of a greyhound and the show dogs race for ribbons. There were also a lot more show dog clubs in NSW than greyhound clubs. Gunnedah has one greyhound club in the region and there are four substantial show dog clubs in the area (I am told).

    The head vet at GRNSW stated in an earlier report that there were 300 greyhound tracks in China. China has a growing middle class and greyhounds are bringing big bucks and there is no wagering on the mainland.

    Leading breeder’s has been quoted as saying that he is considering packing up and selling his stick to China in protest about the myopic attitudes of Greyhounds Australasia.
    Greyhound Australasia was formed originally in 1937/8 (ANZGRA) to facilitate the trade between the States which had speed coursing for small money to be able to take advantage of the rich prize money in NSW and Tasmania which had mechanical racing and high prize money. Victoria adopted mechanical racing from 1956 and gradually closed the prize money gap, other States then followed suit.

    When the TAB was in Government hands it saw the future of racing as the need for its wagering arm to enter into the international market. The wagering climate in NSW was stretched and expanded into poker machines legally in Clubs and Pubs and the fact that the TAB failed to get the concessions on running Lotto and Lotteries which they expected to gain.

    The future of racing rests with the growing middle classes in our world region as does every other endeavour involved with trade.

  6. Bruce,

    I have only listened to the current acting CEO of GRNSW who represents the Board as well and I got the impression that he was reflecting that greyhound racing apart from GRNSW did not have a collective voice (my words). When you read the patient which forms the delegations involved with the Special Commission of the Executive Council under the inquiry act it is noted that A B C are all involved with the breeding and training of greyhounds and whether regulations and controls can be introduced at a cost which will allow greyhound racing to be sustainable and make a contribution to the State.

    The voice that is missing is the breeders and trainers lack of cohesion as a professional group of greyhound traders and providers. There are historic reasons why greyhound racing has failed to produce a national industry group along these lines and this needs to be explored and fixed in my view. The above is apart from the wagering aspects which require integrity in the running of races.

    Trade in animals is not necessarily totally connected to prize money or wagering the trade is also involved with branding.

    The last time I looked the show dogs in NSW were producing 25,000 registered pups to our 6,000 and the average price per pup was about double the average of a greyhound and the show dogs race for ribbons. There were also a lot more show dog clubs in NSW than greyhound clubs. Gunnedah has one greyhound club in the region and there are four substantial show dog clubs in the area (I am told).

    The head vet at GRNSW stated in an earlier report that there were 300 greyhound tracks in China. China has a growing middle class and greyhounds are bringing big bucks and there is no wagering on the mainland.

    Leading breeder’ has been quoted as saying that he is considering packing up and selling his stock to China in protest about the myopic attitudes of Greyhounds Australasia.

    Greyhound Australasia was formed originally in 1937/8 (ANZGRA) to facilitate the trade between the States which had speed coursing for small money to be able to take advantage of the rich prize money in NSW and Tasmania which had mechanical racing and high prize money. Victoria adopted mechanical racing from 1956 and gradually closed the prize money gap, other States then followed suit.

    When the TAB was in Government hands it saw the future of racing as the need for its wagering arm to enter into the international market. The wagering climate in NSW was stretched and expanded into poker machines legally in Clubs and Pubs and the fact that the TAB failed to get the concessions on running Lotto and Lotteries which they expected to gain.

    The future of racing rests with the growing middle classes in our world region as does every other endeavour involved with trade.

  7. John Tracey Newell set-up racing or at least was involved heavily over ten years ago. . From 2004 SMH article “Newell says protesters have the wrong picture. Retired racing dogs exported to those countries get a longer life expectancy and often better care than in Australia, with strict controls on their welfare, he says. “In Vietnam, we have a lovely compound close to the coast which has the afternoon sea breeze and dams for swimming and they are well looked after,” he says. 

    Oh really ? These dogs a have a miserable outlook, especially in Vietnam. The “Leading” over-breeder you speak of exports despite it being a violation of animal welfare legislation in Australia. 

    from the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry

    442 It further noted that this exportation goes against the principles of GRNSW:
    … it also offends one of the principles endorsed by GRNSW regarding the export of
    greyhounds to countries which do not have a properly managed greyhound racing
    industry, or where such an industry is not sufficiently regulated to ensure the welfare
    of greyhounds.443

  8. John Tracey Newell set-up racing or at least was involved heavily over ten years ago. . From 2004 SMH article “Newell says protesters have the wrong picture. Retired racing dogs exported to those countries get a longer life expectancy and often better care than in Australia, with strict controls on their welfare, he says. “In Vietnam, we have a lovely compound close to the coast which has the afternoon sea breeze and dams for swimming and they are well looked after,” he says. 

    Oh really ? These dogs a have a miserable outlook, especially in Vietnam. The “Leading” over-breeder you speak of exports despite it being a violation of animal welfare legislation in Australia. 

    from the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry

    442 It further noted that this exportation goes against the principles of GRNSW:

    … it also offends one of the principles endorsed by GRNSW regarding the export of

    greyhounds to countries which do not have a properly managed greyhound racing

    industry, or where such an industry is not sufficiently regulated to ensure the welfare

    of greyhounds.443

  9. Dezzey John Tracey I would need to look at the Vietnam stats but if the dogs are graded to all be competitive in races and they race for a long time then their life expectancy would possibly higher than Australia. Ironically we are not very flash ourselves on the stated 442 criteria. 
    Just on the legislation on trade, we have been trading greyhounds with China for nearly 100 years, the first greyhounds we sent were before 1920 when the ex pats set up mechanical hare racing on the mainland. Racing stopped and then started up again and was banned in the 1949 revolution and then restricted to Macao and further re introduced to the mainland over recent years. The export of animals overseas is covered by federal legislation and approval for export is decided at the Federal Level. GA has no power to override federal legislation. 
    The various animal welfare (prevention of cruelty) are Acts under the various State Legislation. One of the “problems” that NSW has had is that its prevention of cruelty act has always been tougher than the other states and therefore there has been a subdued debate in the past on the benefits or dis benefits of blooding. Some States did not have animal rights for pests, vermin and rodents which meant the animals had no rights and no protection. NSW has worked on animal rights and necessary and un- necessary cruelty.
    The current wisdom is that Australia benefits from trade with its neighbours and that welfare rights will improve following the growing wealth in the associated areas. I appreciate that the above view is the majority view of Australians but there are also a lot of distractors.

  10. Dezzey John Tracey I would need to look at the Vietnam stats but if the dogs are graded to all be competitive in races and they race for a long time then their life expectancy would possibly higher than Australia. Ironically we are not very flash ourselves on the stated 442 criteria. 

    Just on the legislation on trade, we have been trading greyhounds with China for nearly 100 years, the first greyhounds we sent were before 1920 when the ex pats set up mechanical hare racing on the mainland. Racing stopped and then started up again and was banned in the 1949 revolution and then restricted to Macao and further re introduced to the mainland over recent years. The export of animals overseas is covered by federal legislation and approval for export is decided at the Federal Level. GA has no power to override federal legislation. 

    The various animal welfare (prevention of cruelty) are Acts under the various State Legislation. One of the “problems” that NSW has had is that its prevention of cruelty act has always been tougher than the other states and therefore there has been a subdued debate in the past on the benefits or dis benefits of blooding. Some States did not have animal rights for pests, vermin and rodents which meant the animals had no rights and no protection. NSW has worked on animal rights and necessary and un- necessary cruelty.

    The current wisdom is that Australia benefits from trade with its neighbours and that welfare rights will improve following the growing wealth in the associated areas. I appreciate that the above view is the majority view of Australians but there are also a lot of distractors. 

  11. GreyhoundRacing National BETTING POOLS > $ Bigger Pools Bigger Punters/Interest Hence >$ to Promote Industry >Mugg Punters Mugg Industry

  12. GreyhoundRacing National BETTING POOLS > $ Bigger Pools Bigger Punters/Interest Hence >$ to Promote Industry >Mugg Punters Mugg Industry

  13. John Tracey Dezzey 

    I really don’t think we can sit behind stats and await the growing middle class prosperity of our neighbours to ensure future welfare. When you have Dr Choi U Fai,
    head of the Macau government’s animal-control department, saying “the plight of greyhounds is “terrible”
    and every dog imported from Australia was dead within three years; you know it is not good. See no evil, is not really good enough.

  14. John Tracey Dezzey 

    I really don’t think we can sit behind stats and await the growing middle class prosperity of our neighbours to ensure future welfare. When you have Dr Choi U Fai,head of the Macau government’s animal-control department, saying “the plight of greyhounds is “terrible”and every dog imported from Australia was dead within three years; you know it is not good. See no evil, is not really good enough.

  15. Dezzey John Tracey Thats you opinion but I beg to disagree.

    With regard to your serious allegation of criminality against the leading breeder, your quote
    “The “Leading” owner-breeder you speak of exports despite it being a violation of animal welfare legislation in Australia. 
    I will use your quote in a submission to the special inquiry could you let me know what section of the Federal or State Law  is he breeching.
    Are you prepared to appear before the special inquiry with your allegation.?.

  16. Dezzey John Tracey Thats you opinion but I beg to disagree.

    With regard to your serious allegation of criminality against the leading breeder, your quote

    The “Leading” owner-breeder you speak of exports despite it being a violation of animal welfare legislation in Australia. 

    I will use your quote in a submission to the special inquiry could you let me know what section of the Federal or State Law  is he breeching.

    Are you prepared to appear before the special inquiry with your allegation.?.

  17. John Tracey Dezzey All lifted from the 2014 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry (with a dash of emotion mind you). “A matter for the Federal Govt was the recommendation”.

  18. John Tracey Dezzey All lifted from the 2014 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry (with a dash of emotion mind you). “A matter for the Federal Govt was the recommendation”.

  19. Dezzey John Tracey Thanks I got the generic quotes off your activity statement, The law society makes your point and the inquiry states this is a matter for the Federal Government. This is a fact rather than a recommendation (my point as well.) I researched the matter of exports of greyhounds with the Federal department years ago when I objected to an article in the Financial Review on the subject. The reporter claimed that she had got her information from an animal rights group and that the stats came from the Federal departments records. I rang the Federal Department under the informal freedom of information act and they told me that the details given out referred to all dogs sent to Asia and the department did not distinguish between racing greyhounds and any other breed. I got back to the reporter with the information and she stated that GRNSW had also used the 1,000 per year Stat as the number of greyhounds exported to Asia in a year. I rang GRNSW and they stated that they had got the Statistic from the article that the reporter I was talking about had published in the Financial Review. I got back again to the financial review reporter and told her that she was the source used  World wide for the numbers of greyhounds exported to Asia. The reporter was willing to have the matter resolved at the GRNSW level but the offer was not taken up. The Editor of the paper intervened and questioned the wisdom of the article in a financial paper. I was interested in the statistic as I was researching trade over the years with China and needed to confirm details.
    It should be an object lesson for reporters and control boards to check their information with the independent base source before publishing.
    Both the reporter and GRNSW accepted as a fact information misinterpreted either by accident or design from a source with a special interest and so it goes on.
    The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in my view should have in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.
    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.
    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect.

  20. Dezzey John Tracey Thanks I got the generic quotes off your activity statement, The law society makes your point and the inquiry states this is a matter for the Federal Government. This is a fact rather than a recommendation (my point as well.) I researched the matter of exports of greyhounds with the Federal department years ago when I objected to an article in the Financial Review on the subject. The reporter claimed that she had got her information from an animal rights group and that the stats came from the Federal departments records. I rang the Federal Department under the informal freedom of information act and they told me that the details given out referred to all dogs sent to Asia and the department did not distinguish between racing greyhounds and any other breed. I got back to the reporter with the information and she stated that GRNSW had also used the 1,000 per year Stat as the number of greyhounds exported to Asia in a year. I rang GRNSW and they stated that they had got the Statistic from the article that the reporter I was talking about had published in the Financial Review. I got back again to the financial review reporter and told her that she was the source used  World wide for the numbers of greyhounds exported to Asia. The reporter was willing to have the matter resolved at the GRNSW level but the offer was not taken up. The Editor of the paper intervened and questioned the wisdom of the article in a financial paper. I was interested in the statistic as I was researching trade over the years with China and needed to confirm details.

    It should be an object lesson for reporters and control boards to check their information with the independent base source before publishing.

    Both the reporter and GRNSW accepted as a fact information misinterpreted either by accident or design from a source with a special interest and so it goes on.

    The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in my vie have in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.

    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.

    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect.

  21. Sorry I am a bit slow on editing my posts, this is my further clarification to Deasy.

    The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in  in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.
    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.
    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect my take is that export agreements between countries has a much wider public interest than the restricted public interest of both the greyhounds and the adoption schemes and should stay within the Government control. GA should adopt its limited role better.

  22. Sorry I am a bit slow on editing my posts, this is my further clarification to Deasy.

    The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in  in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.

    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.

    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect my take is that export agreements between countries has a much wider public interest than the restricted public interest of both the greyhounds and the adoption schemes and should stay within the Government control. GA should adopt its limited role better.

  23. Dezzey John Tracey The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in  in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.
    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.
    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect my take is that export agreements between countries has a much wider public interest than the restricted public interest of both the greyhounds and the adoption schemes and should stay within the Government control. GA should adopt its limited role better.

  24. Dezzey John Tracey The dash of emotion is welcome the upshot of this conversation is that GA and the control boards are limited in what effect they have and in  in regard to the export of animals. In fact they are either a small agency or in the case of GA a small company.

    There appear better ways of influencing animal rights in Asia than by protesting with a clayton’s ban which is designed to appease the animal rights groups and little else.

    I hope that submissions to the current special enquiry will deal with this aspect my take is that export agreements between countries has a much wider public interest than the restricted public interest of both the greyhounds and the adoption schemes and should stay within the Government control. GA should adopt its limited role better.

  25. John Tracey Thanks John. I enjoy the banter and I have learned a thing or two. Whilst we may disagree we both love the Hound.

  26. John Tracey Thanks John. I enjoy the banter and I have learned a thing or two. Whilst we may disagree we both love the Hound.