The long-term bodes ill but all is far from lost for racing

“RACING only exists for the betting,” said 2UE sports broadcaster John Stanley on the 14 June edition of the ABC Sunday sports program Offsiders.

“The romance that we love is funded by the betting, so with so much competition for the betting dollar in the world if you’ve got no integrity and there’s suggestions there’s dodginess happening, which this certainly suggests, that’s a real problem long-term for racing.”

His comments followed a brief piece on the issue of cobalt being found in a number of racehorses and the subsequent penalties being handed down to a handful of Victorian trainers.

In his 1990 biography of leviathan bookmaker Bill Waterhouse The Gambling Man, journalist and author Kevin Perkins wrote, ‘One major weakness with the administration of…racing in Australia and many other countries is that Committees…believe the purpose of racing is to propagate and improve the breed. It’s not. Racing is for betting.’

A little later Perkins writes, ‘Will greater prize money attract more punters? Hardly, but better odds and percentage returns to punters might…’

In its report ‘Horse and Dog Racing in Australia’, published in October 2014, a company called IBISWorld (www.ibisworld.com.au) which bills itself as ‘strategists, analysts, researchers, and marketers’ stated the overall situation succinctly on page 10: ‘This industry is declining’.

Among its comments on the decline it notes, ‘Rising popularity and accessibility of non-racing gambling activities such as sports betting have also contributed to this decline. Gamblers have increasingly been able to place bets on alternate events such as sports matches using online platforms, mobile phones and tablets. This trend has resulted in less gambling on expenditure on industry races and caused revenue to fall.’

Of course, the advent of mobile devices and the like has also helped gamblers bet on racing as well should they so desire, but it does appear as though the majority of the betting via these other devices is on sports, to the detriment of racing in general.

From what I understand, the majority of new gamblers are concentrating the bulk of their punting funds on sports such as golf, rugby league, American basketball and the like. The question for racing administrators across the codes is how do we attract the new gamblers, not so much so they abandon having a punt on the league or soccer or whatever, but so that the majority of their ‘action’ is spent on racing?

The obvious answer is that racing offers a far greater opportunity of winning decent money over the longer term. Taking $1.90 about whether the Houston Hookers will defeat the Seattle Slashers ($1.85) is not a long-term method of making money. Of course, in most cases, it’s not the point. A casual but regular punter betting on a basketball game and taking odds-on about that result is not really concerned about whether he or she is getting ‘value’. It’s purely an ‘interest’ to make the game more exciting and it gets the adrenalin flowing.

As anyone in business readily understands, there is an on-going need to keep your product or service before the general public and especially to focus on getting new customers/clients/subscribers, call them what you will.

That’s why the biggest corporations on the planet are constantly promoting themselves. The racing industry is the same; the need to attract new faces is ongoing.

It’s not all doom and gloom, or at least it doesn’t need to be. Sensible strategies to increase participation in greyhound racing should be explored more thoroughly, in my view, with the concentration centering around rural areas.

Rural Australia is where I think greyhound racing can regain its momentum. Country tracks are the perfect place to attract strong local community support, not only from making the races a day or night out as part of general entertainment, but also allow for more general publicity in the local , especially in the local newspapers. Greyhound racing rarely gets a look in with the dailies, unless the story is totally negative. Yet in the local publications it has a chance because of the need for editors to fill space.

One of the greatest things Hec and Leah Watt did when they were racing Zoom Top back in the late 1960s was take their champion to race at tracks all over , simply because people wanted to see her in action. Record crowds would be the result in most cases. They could easily have ignored the clamour for people to see Zoom Top and instead continued to win much higher prize money races in the city. Imagine the crowds which would flock to see the likes of a Fernando Bale competing at Armidale, , Dubbo and the like. Imagine the potential local media publicity.

Racing is for betting, and for that you need to constantly replenish your customer base. To me, one of the best ways to achieve this is to heavily promote country racing, which can attract more direct, and indirect, participants.

As the IBISWorld report notes, ‘The industry has a unique operating environment due to its diverse range of participants.’ It is that diversity administrators need to take advantage of, rebuilding the sport from the grass roots.

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