THE live baiting saga is alarming enough but the bigger challenge facing the NSW greyhound industry is finding enough revenue to sustain operations, according to interim CEO Paul Newson in an address to the Central Coast faithful at Gosford Showgrounds this week.
To be sure, he cannot anticipate what the government will do during budget discussions to reduce the state’s tax take. Greyhounds now supply around 20% of the product but get back only 12.5% of TAB commissions since it agreed to a fixed 99-year split between the three codes.
As we pointed out the other day, that deal is more evidence of the long term failure of the racing authority to make sensible, hard-nosed commercial decisions. Some say they were conned 15 years ago, but the truth is they conned themselves. It was a deliberate decision by the authority and the leading clubs. Still, we have to deal with it.
A preferential tax treatment would help restore the balance. Currently, NSW applies a 3.22% tax on all betting compared with 1.28% in Victoria. It now has the option of reducing that tax more for greyhounds than the other two codes. Whatever the government decides, Racing Minister Troy Grant has told Fairfax Media that any extra cash should go to “sustainability and infrastructure rather than prize money”.
The Gosford audience, which was disappointingly small, had concerns about excessive paperwork and asked why they had to go to some trouble to fill out all the forms when GRNSW was failing to keep track of the total numbers of greyhounds racing, breeding, euthanased and so on. Mr Newson agreed that too many figures were missing and that GRNSW performance had to be improved.
(For our part, we can advise that an average of 14,057 dogs were racing across Australia for the 12 months ended March 31, 2015. That figure is almost identical to that for the previous 12 months period but may be slightly affected by the recent batch of suspensions in the three largest states. The June 2015 quarter may tell more. Those figures are obtained by scanning race fields everywhere and then deleting duplicated names).
However, those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Nationally, we do not know how much breeding is taking place or how many pups are whelped. Composite figures have not been published since 2011 for breeding, nor for meeting and starter numbers for that matter.
Add to that the impossibility of knowing how much betting is taking place. Most TAB data is readily available but not the day to day activity on Fixed Odds. Turnover for online bookmakers is not published until the end of the year and for Betfair, not at all. In any event, collating state by state data is never a simple task.
How, then, is it possible to run an industry without knowing how much activity there is and what the trends are?
It isn’t, apparently, as Mr Newson advises. He says the industry “has no credibility” and “is not speaking with one voice”, all of which contributes to its poor balance sheets.
However, I should comment on both those statements. To the extent that a single voice is not available it is surely a matter for the people controlling the industry – ie the GRNSW board and management, whose job it is to lead the way. The prospect of a single voice speaking for participants is somewhere between slim and none, going on past experience. But that’s hardly relevant. The public want to hear, and deserve to hear, from the people in charge of the business. If “credibility” is a problem the blame cannot be placed on the workers but on GRNSW itself.
Remember that the former practice of appointing industry people to board positions has been done away with anyway, thereby eliminating the potential for conflicts of interest. Even then, the supposedly independent members of the current board are not really that at all. All have had involvements with various arms of the racing industry in the past. They have form. No new blood and no people with different business experience are there to provide a fund of new perspectives and new ideas. Of course, even if there were some such board members, their effectiveness would be limited by the “committee of management” concept. Fixing that structure should be the first cab off the rank for all the reviewers.
Finally, another key concern expressed by Mr Newson was the amount of breeding taking place. While it attracted little or no comment from the audience it suggests one area where he has the wrong end of the stick. Breeding takes place purely and simply because there is a demand for it, whether socially, commercially or just to ensure the preservation of the species, as Darwin pointed out.
Efforts by the RSPCA, Animal Liberation and all the other anti-groups to cut breeding are pointless and illogical. They are also directing their attention primarily to greyhounds rather than to the hundreds of other breeds where the same issues persist. Sensible and controlled breeding is desirable, of course, and notably Victoria has been quite strong in introducing programs and standards to that effect. It is also desirable to police standards for the disposal of surplus animals, whether dogs, horses or wild animals.
However, to reduce breeding for the sake of it is not only a negative policy but one that will never work. Of course, the real aim of these groups is to eliminate greyhound racing altogether, in which case they would then be looking at a disposal problem of huge proportions. Further, it would tend to reduce the prospects of the breed being improved and sustained, which cuts across their own objectives of the preservation of the species – any species.
It’s the wrong approach. If you want to control breeding, you must address the demand, not the supply.
Anyway, let’s go to the future. The industry’s major problem has been defined as a shortfall in income, which is pretty accurate. Certainly, there may be some opportunities to trim costs here and there but that would amount to a once-off effort and will not really address the long term challenge. In any case, any savings will be gobbled up quickly by the rising cost of welfare projects.
The real issue is that efforts to increase patronage and therefore betting turnover have varied between nil and pathetic. Not only are we losing good customers (as evidenced by the declining quality and makeup of betting) but we are not going out looking for new customers. Nor are we seeking out information on what potential customers want and then creating a product they want to buy. Put simply, if we offer a runner at $2.00 when its real ability warrants a $3..00 price there is no hope of generating new business. That inbuilt over-betting is strictly a function of the growth of mug gamblers passing in the night. And it is more influential in greyhounds than in the other two codes because of the small size of betting pools.
Consequently, Mr Newson’s problem can be solved readily by (a) improving the product and (b) finding new customers. That cannot happen overnight but it is possible, providing only that those in charge of the industry stop administering and get out and manage.