Beaumont Park, Newcastle’s one and only greyhound track had shifted from its usual Saturday afternoon slot to an apparently better-earning Thursday night to stage one of its prime annual events, sponsored then by the cigarette people.
Families flocked in, as did some high-quality dogs from all over. You could hardly move in the betting ring without tripping over a baby stroller.
That was in 1992, so SKY begun its reign as the medium of the future and big events still attracted plenty of punters, particularly to a decent betting ring. The freeway from Sydney was a way off, but trainers and dogs still came from everywhere for the big prize (was it $10k? – it’s hard to remember, but it was a lot then).
It was 3/1 each of three but that was pretty skinny for South Road Sid, which liked the centre of the track – a risky proposition on the tight Beaumont Park circuit. I managed to get $1500 to $500 about Credibility and he and Jessica went hammer and tongs the whole way round. The box won. Thankfully, a neck still separated them at the finish.
So that was more or less the start of a very significant quarter century of racing, one which has generated plenty of changes in the way the industry works.
Aside from SKY and new freeways, look what’s happened since …
- The internet arrived
- State authorities all started producing their own formguides, which few people now read
- Punters deserted the racetracks except for major events
- Online bookies and Betfair injected some life into a moribund betting market
- Drugs got more attention, even to miniscule traces of the stuff
- Mug gamblers increased in importance
- Pubs joined licensed social clubs as prime betting outlets
- Sunday football was finally permitted in Victoria, as was betting on football
- Anti-racing groups started to make bigger noises
- Breeding numbers flattened out and dogs had less stamina
- Clubs introduced more short races
- Lower quality greyhounds made their way into the TAB-track mix
- Tabcorp dominated most parts of racing
- Beaumont Park became a housing development, to be replaced later by a struggling new club at The Gardens
At the same time, some things never changed …
- State Governments plodded on in the same old way
- So did racing authorities
- Poorly-designed racetracks persisted – and sometimes were even cloned
- Racing’s real income changed little, aside from some state handouts
- The industry concentrated on survival rather than progress
The end result is that greyhound racing – in the words of George Costanza of Seinfield – has “no hand”. That position was echoed recently by the interim CEO in NSW, Paul Newson. The only people to notice it are animal lover groups who fail badly to understand what greyhounds like to do – i.e. chase. The public are not much enthused, mainly because no-one has ever asked them to be. Governments avoid reforms, mainly because change always irks a few voters. By default, Tabcorp and its shareholders rule.
As it happens, I can add some personal experiences to that list. During the 1990s our little organisation sold hundreds of GreyBase form analysis programs to keen buyers all over the country. During the following decade sales dropped steadily, despite many program improvements and easy internet access. In the current decade interest was non-existent. The business had only one Australian competitor and it folded up years before when the business dried up.
The outcome, or the cause, was that the bulk of greyhound fans shifted their allegiances from serious form studies to picking up tips from anybody who cared to offer them. Or from nobody at all.
Lucky numbers, following certain boxes, over-betting on favourites and mystery bets came to the fore. The entire market changed shape. Authorities and clubs seemed not to notice because mug money replaced educated betting and the total was much the same. Value did not matter much and so fixed odds purveyors could get away with bigger takeouts than the already high 17%-18% average removed from tote bets.
Note, incidentally, that the house percentage in racing is higher than in any other form of gambling except lotteries. Pokies, casinos and two-up are a steal by comparison.
Quality remains in part. Top dogs, skilled trainers, better feeds and medicines and superior drug enforcement offer the basis for what could be a thriving industry. The missing link is that we have not bothered to tell anyone that. Nor have we bothered to improve the mechanics of greyhound racing, to construct a competitive wagering sector, nor modernise the way it is managed.
Squint a bit and the 1950s is repeating itself.
Credibility won the State of Origin for Queensland, but you are unlikely to see that again. A generation has gone to waste. Happily, it is recoverable but only if governments and racing authorities grasp the nettle and reform the industry.
The current inquiries and reviews in the three biggest states offer an opportunity to do just that – providing only that they know what the question is.