In an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper published on August 3, NSW Premier Baird restated the reasoning behind his unilateral decision to shut down greyhound racing as of July next year.
So, let’s look at his reasons, and take them one by one.
First of all, he made it clear horse racing and farming would not face restrictions because, “Horse racing (is) flourishing, growing across the world.”
What kind of a deflective argument is that? Can anyone name at least two countries in the world where horse racing has been introduced in the last five years? I believe the answer is none. Equally, what relevance does this have to NSW?
Baird stated, “Greyhound racing is shrinking, the number of participants, the attendance, the economics. It is down to eight countries. It’s now going to be down to four states in America. If you look at the economic analysis out of America it is losing money, the industry is shrinking, the number of participants is shrinking the attendances are shrinking and there are massive animal welfare issues.”
When the McHugh Commission commenced its hearings in 2015, greyhound racing in the United States was taking place in the following states (with the venue in brackets): Alabama (Birmingham, Mobile), Arizona (Southland, Tucson), Iowa (Bluffs Run, Dubuque), Florida (Daytona Beach, Derby Lane, Ebro, Mardi Gras, Melbourne, Naples-Ft Myers, Orange Park, Palm Beach, Pensacola, Sanford-Orlando, Sarasota), Texas (Gulf), and West Virginia (Tri-State, Wheeling Downs). By my count that is six states, not four.
Even if what Baird says was true, what relevance does that have with greyhound racing in Australia? As Jason Caley, who posted on this website’s forum noted:
“The trouble with racing in the USA…is that there really was never ever any central regulatory authority on a state basis,” he wrote. “On a national basis yes, but the tracks are run independently by corporations and those who choose to be trainers are employed effectively by the track owners.
“The notion of an owner-trainer/backyard trainer who brings his dogs to the track to race but at all other times treats them as pets is lost in the USA… Dogs kenneled at the track and trialed only at that track…As you well know – here in Australia – the greyhounds leave the track – the state authorities administer all racing and those tracks (mostly – there are exceptions) are administered by the authorities.
“The US model is very different. I could not in good conscience participate in racing in the USA during my time there yet I am a trainer here and have no moral qualms about putting my dogs on a track over here in Australia.”
Baird claimed the McHugh report ‘gave him no option but to shut down the industry.’ The McHugh report came up with 80 recommendations and the failures within the sport can be placed squarely at the feet of the various state governments, both Labor and Liberals, who failed to govern it correctly.
He said, “Even if you implemented their reforms, there were still up to 3,000 dogs that were going to be slaughtered every year, live baiting would remain and the economics were entirely and utterly questionable.”
Let’s reiterate again what McHugh noted with regard to live baiting: between 10 and 20 per cent of trainers involved. For the mathematically-challenged that means at least 80 per cent and up to 90 per cent are not involved. So, properly administered and live baiting would not continue because it’s already a relative rarity.
As far as the alleged ‘slaughter’ – note the use of this ‘emotive’ word – is concerned, proper oversight and regulation could virtually eliminate this problem. Note: horses live for 25 years or more on average, yet it was only in 2014 the thoroughbred code introduced measures to check what was happening to horses after their racing careers were concluded. Where are all the racehorses who retired between, say, 2005 and 2013? How many have been ‘slaughtered’, to use the emotive word of the Premier? Yet, the horse racing authorities have been permitted to introduce measures to prevent wholesale slaughter while greyhound racing in NSW has been clearly discriminated against.
As for the questionable economics, well the premier is pretty good at ‘questionable’. Recommendation 64 in the McHugh report reads: ‘If the racing codes cannot agree on a more equitable distribution of TAB revenue, the Parliament of NSW should legislate to amend the current arrangements by providing for a distribution that reflects each codes contribution to TAB revenue.’ NSW Greyhound Racing earns over 22 per cent of turnover yet only receives 13 per cent in distribution. By any measure this is clearly unfair.
But is it in decline? Let’s look at the figures.
Arguably, the peak period for racing as a whole in NSW occurred in the early to mid years of the 1970s. The NSW TAB had been established in late 1964 but there was no way anyone could have a legal off-course bet on the races after about 6pm when the TAB agencies closed, so the racetrack was pretty much the only place anyone could go to get a bet on. That’s why the tracks were so busy in that era. Since then, racetrack attendance at all codes has dropped, primarily because there are so many alternative options for having a legal bet and for being able to watch the races.
In the 1964-1965 season, NSW TAB turnover on horse racing amounted to 72.04% of the total, while greyhound racing accounted for 15.39% and harness racing just 12.57%.
In the 1966-1967 season, greyhound racings share of NSW TAB turnover dropped to 14.30%, while horse racing was at 68.55%.
Then along came the great Zoom Top. Media coverage skyrocketed and with it turnover. By the end of the 1971-1972 season, greyhound racing hit 22.90% while the horses were down to 59.23% and harness racing 17.87%.
Between 30 June 1965 and 30 June 1972, horse racing had declined more than 12% while greyhounds had grown more than seven percent. So, if greyhound racing is around 22% of turnover in 2015-2016 and it was 22% of turnover 45 years ago, it doesn’t take a maths whiz to see it has retained its share of the turnover pie. The figures don’t lie Mr Baird.
More and more this decision looks to be driven by a kind of class warfare: the ‘poor, working-class, Labor-voting dog man’ versus the financial lure of valuable land occupied by the greyhound tracks. For those living near Wentworth Park, it won’t be long now until the developers have moved in and the skyscrapers go up.