NSW Greyhound Racing Is Profitable… For The Moment

NSW greyhound racing

There are two good things about the 2019/20 Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) Annual Report (AR): the 19.1% jump in revenue, leading to a $6.963m surplus for the year; and a clear, readable and easy-download copy; unlike some other states where the job is outsourced to a mob which likes to dabble in fancy neck-twisting presentations.

This came during very trying times as bushfires and Covid-19 hampered business, notably by shutting down TAB outlets for several months. Still, the Million Dollar Chase (MDC) series did very well, proving the worth of efforts to take the sport out to the public across the state.

We should always mention that the MDC is basically financed by the government-controlled unclaimed dividend fund and sponsors, not the code itself. And certainly not the taxpayers, as some lazy commentators are prone to claim.

Obviously, it involved a lot of hard work by GRNSW and GWIC staff. Well done.

So where did all this extra cash come from? Well, a serious study would be worthwhile but it is not certain that anyone did that. Meantime, here are two strong possibilities.

First, with travel truncated and many working from home, and with time on their hands, many folk would be easily able to reach into their pockets and punch a bet into their digital devices. That is also one reason why the corporate’s share of the market zoomed past 50% and the TAB was forced to endure a slide in tote pool sizes, making their offering less attractive to punters; and they were not great to start with because of state by state splits.

Second, somehow or other, we ran more TAB races – up almost 7% on 2018/19 to a total of 9,877. That’s despite “Wenty” being shut down for weeks and its dates transferred to country locations. Promoting some country clubs to TAB status would also have helped.

Taken together, these two factors might account for most of the 19.1% revenue growth. That’s welcome but may not be repeatable.

Practical Items

Both GRNSW and Greyhound Welfare And Integrity Commission (GWIC) make much of a 45% fall in racetrack injuries, attributing this to improvements in “track safety”. It’s difficult to work out exactly what this means and where it has happened. The AR lists Gosford, Gunnedah, Tamworth, Wentworth Park, Bathurst, Kempsey and (for the future) Grafton as cases in point. Yet, in none of these cases have we heard exactly what was done. We are asked to accept assurances that “improvements have been made”.

The apparent justification is that “best practices” have emerged from the UTS-sponsored Minimum Standards for Track Design – a document which is also not available to examine.

For example, the Gosford change from a 400m to a 388m trip has still left us with a bend start, fairly regular race falls and a dubious camber on the 515m first turn. At Grafton, no plans are offered for the final 2021 layout – all we have is the club’s original guess at what would be desirable.

Population and Strategies

Here, long term issues come into play. They concern both the quantity and quality of the greyhound population. They also demand even more clarity about what authorities are trying to do.

A clear view is being presented that the number one priority is welfare, as expressed in both health and usefulness of individual dogs. Injury-free tracks and near-zero euthanasia must be achieved! We can all agree that great care should be taken in those areas but it is also arguable that the industry has now gone well beyond community standards or the so-called “social license” which some speak about (including the error-prone McHugh Commission).

The contrary argument is that greyhound racing must score better than others purely because it is a money-making exercise. But not only is this a dubious approach, it is also inaccurate. A vast range of animals are now attached to money-making ventures – from farmers’ helpers to the (often expensive) family pooch which busts a leg in the backyard or chasing a car out in the street. Moreover, it has been demonstrated time and again that the ultimate fortunes of an animal are dependent on just how much it is valued in the community. Making handbags from crocodile skins would be the final piece of nonsense.

This why we end up with strange designs like that coming up at Traralgon, where safety has been the all-encompassing guideline, almost regardless of the track’s worth as a racing venue (or its suitability for many types of dogs).

The greyhound is a racing dog which should be able to race safely to finish its job. Don’t get it the other way round. To do so could endanger the very survival of the breed.

I well remember the shallow-thinking Canberra politician who demanded to know why airliners were not equipped with eight engines rather than four if it was safer to do so. The short answer, of course, is that nobody would be able to afford the necessary fares to pay for the extra running costs. It is a little ironic that, in today’s world, planes with only two engines are easily able to cross the world nonstop – and with fewer breakdowns. Boeing’s Dreamliner is just one of many.

How Many is Too Many?

Most of the post-2015 battles revolved not around live baiting (which is illegal in any context) but around euthanasia rates, partly because of silly and abusive practices by a handful of trainers. Poorly qualified reviewers in three states got this wrong, too, all failing to inspect and analyse what was actually happening in the breeding sector. Politicians jumped on the band wagon and demanded tougher rules or even the elimination of the industry.

For whatever reasons, it resulted in a major decline in demand for greyhounds of any sort. Breeding numbers dropped like a stone and remain there today. This occurred despite overlapping efforts by the industry to professionalise the production of pups by banning services to older dams and limiting the number of lifetime services each could handle. In each case, analyses had shown that over-enthusiastic use of a dam tended to produce lower quality pups.

Since race numbers have not fallen in sympathy, but actually increased, last year NSW averaged only 7.22 starters per race, about the same as in 2018/19 but down from the targeted 7.60 achieved in 2017/18. This makes exotic betting less attractive to punters or gamblers, mainly because multiple bets like Trifectas and First Fours pay smaller dividends in small fields.

But what sort of races were they? Two recent surveys have revealed that over 60% of all races are now for scampers of 259m to 400m. At most provincial tracks these races dominate the program and the majority require a start on a bend, thereby raising risks of interference and injury and endangering betting integrity – how is this “safer”? At several tracks, ultra-short trips requiring extra capital expenditure have been added only recently.

Clearly, that continuing trend will reduce incentives to develop dogs to better handle the premium distances of 500m or so, and certainly those over even longer trips. How can this be good for the progress and development of the breed?

Summary

GRNSW has achieved short term prosperity while avoiding the long term risks tied to the survival and development of the breed – primarily concerning its stamina but also involving the attractiveness of the greyhound product to potential owners, punters and the general public.

NSW, in company with some other states, is prone to secrecy. We know, roughly, what it does but not why or how.

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