What Lies Ahead – Icebergs Or A Following Wind?

“Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life”. William Congreve, 1695.

Lots of joy must be ahead for Australian greyhound racing. Change is everywhere. Probably a good thing, too, so long as racing gets its house(s) in order.

· Racefield fees are in a state of flux following the Racing NSW win in the High Court. Everyone is rushing to the negotiating table. Bookmakers are adjusting.

· Betfair must be struggling a bit. Like the TABs, it is now pushing hard into the bookmaking sector. Apparently, more and more people like the fixed odds caper.

· Tabcorp has just done deals in Victoria and, presumably, will have another go at combining its NSW and Victorian operations, previously torpedoed by a short sighted NSW Minister (or was it his department?) The Victorian government is sorting out new TAB contracts.

· New owner Tatts has revamped Tastote online and cut back some information flows. Not the end of the world but annoying. Tatts will also need a new boss when Dick McIlwain retires soon.

· Country wide, authorities are revamping computer facilities as NSW joins the WA system, soon to be accompanied by other states, but not Victoria. Form and race results are up for grabs, as is the availability of that form to the public. Will it be like the thoroughbred code’s RISA? Some hope! And the stud book is under the wing of Greyhounds Australasia, helped by GRV, so what will happen there?

· Historical Note: The first effort to combine computer form resources took place in 1994, when Victoria tried to convince other Greyhounds Australasia (then ANZGA) members to adopt a common approach. NSW knocked it on the head for very peculiar and parochial reasons. The bloke responsible for that push was none other than Adam Wallish, then offsider to Victorian CEO, the late Ken Carr. Adam was subsequently CEO in NSW, then ran hockey back in Victoria and is now a board member at GRV. Interesting! No idea what team he supports but it is probably not St Kilda.

· The Queensland upheaval continues apace but all we know so far is that greyhounds will have a separate board. Will there be any other changes to the organisational structure, and to how the members will be picked – hopefully independently? And will they fund the new Logan site, as promised? Not sure. Will it be professionally designed? Not sure either. The last lot (at Deagon) had no greyhound experience but, then, who does?

· In the not too distant past, SA and Tasmania made changes to either their boards, their structures or their CEOs, while NSW is bedding down a fresh board. Likewise for Victoria, which has had a couple of board changes recently and where CEO John Stephens, a huge influence, is to bow out in the middle of the year.

· Victoria, under the same John Stephens, has long been the only state to actively address the need to improve tracks (although not the two city tracks). Shortcomings in other states deter punters and invite attention from anti-racing lobbies, already noisy about whips and jumps at the gallops. Is there an enlightenment in the offing?

· Two governments have changed colour recently, more will follow.

· And poor old GWA CEO, David Simonette, is watching all this from his sick bed in Perth while they try to work out when, if or how Cannington dogs will move to a new location and if they can make any money under the new fee regime (small states usually have to pay out more than they get in). Still, RWWA racing chief Ken Norquay, a former Penrith boy, is there to steady the ship. Go the Panthers!

Amidst all this to and fro, let’s hope the new brooms try to modernise the set up at Greyhounds Australasia. We don’t need advisors. We need someone to be in charge. Courage and statesmanship are required.

Nowhere is a strong, unified voice more essential than in a campaign to bring about a national betting pool, something which would hugely benefit greyhound turnover and profits. Most pools are already too small for sensible betting and are regularly distorted by the ever-increasing content of mug gamblers and Mystery bets.

At different times we have heard a range of people speak in favour of the national pool, including Tatts itself and former NSW Racing Minister Richard Face (following an industry review). Tabcorp wants to combine its NSW and Victorian pools anyway so going national is only a small step after that. So why is it not happening?

Sadly, no one is in charge. State governments all have different approaches to any given subject. There is an Australian Racing Ministers Council but it suffers from the same disease as each of the racing codes – they all nod wisely at the annual meeting but then take home the question to bandy around with colleagues. Especially with the Treasurer, who may or may not know anything about racing.

You can call it a non-decision-making process. Even if they agree, it takes months or even years before anything happens, and then it appears in fits and starts (just like the arrival of the green rug at the dogs).

Ideally, it is time governments bought out of the subject completely. They are in there only because they passed laws to licence and protect TABs and – supposedly – to ensure a continuing flow of taxes. That particular obligation ceases as TAB licenses are renewed (ie from now on). The days of combating SP bookies on street corners and keeping out the mafia are long gone. Anyway, such things are the job of the police, not a government which pretends to be at arm’s length, but never is.

Most of that is ancient history but there is ample evidence that governments are never any good at second guessing what commercial organisations should or should not do. Pork barrelling usually comes out on top. A good case could be mounted that tax revenue would improve if private enterprise – or any sort of enterprise – had an open go at running racing.

In any case, all businesses pay taxes so why pick out racing for special handling? Licensing is one thing, poking your nose into everyday life is quite another.

Of course, the parallel assumption would be that each of the codes themselves set up responsible and authoritative national organisations. If racing can’t run its own shops efficiently, how can it expect governments to let them loose?