Something for everybody was the pattern at last Thursday’s parliamentary hearings into greyhound racing.
A GREAT idea emerged from the Australian Wagering Council (a grouping of online bookmakers), which is concerned that overseas-based betting operators are horning in on local business without paying an entry fee – that is, the racefields fee on turnover or profits. On-course bookmakers supported their concern.
Pop-ups will help, according to Ben Sleep, an AWC director. These are the annoying little advertising windows that appear from nowhere on your internet screen. When punters attempt to access an offshore operator, this one would show “You are now leaving Australian shores and you do not have the protection of Australian laws”, and would hopefully cause customers to return to a local outlet. Fair enough.
Other more direct measures to control money movement have not been effective in America, says Sleep.
The AWC is less convincing in calling for racing authorities to avoid any increase in fees on the ground that lower charges will encourage bookies to promote more effectively, thereby increasing the size of the pie. In practice, the online people have a huge cost advantage to play with (relative to TABs, with whom they compete) and could easily afford to increase their contribution. It also does not sit well with their normal practice of running 130% books for Fixed Odds and then cancelling accounts for successful punters. The combination of all the above is not fair dinkum.
To be sure, any fee increase may well affect their existing widespread sponsorship of races and clubs, but a decision to go one way or the other should rest with racing authorities, not service providers. Meanwhile, GRNSW and others are seeking to have the government remove the cap of 1.5% of turnover, or its equivalent.
LATER, lawyer David Landa, who was briefly the Integrity Commissioner until he resigned in 2012, asked the committee to recommend significant changes to the way the office was structured. Landa pointed out that it had proved impossible to carry out his tasks due to a lack of resources – mainly finance – and the need to rely on support from the GRNSW CEO, which was not easy to obtain. Financial and management independence was essential, he claimed.
Currently, the Commissioner can act only if he gets complaints or has a matter referred to him by GRNSW. He cannot initiate his own investigations or inquiries.
Greyhound racing has been without an effective audit process since 2009, according to Mr Landa.
MICHAEL Eberand from the Greyhound Action Group highlighted the need to introduce a fresh stimulus to the code’s income base, citing the beneficial effect arising out of the entry of online bookmakers in past years. That boost has now disappeared and growth has flattened out again.
In preferring to see government intervene in the RDA squabble, Eberand pointed out that the original agreement included a clause requiring the parties to conduct reviews “in good faith” and to meet regularly (quarterly) to discuss topical matters. Advice to him from the GBOTA indicates that has never happened. (There have been some meetings but apparently not in good faith).
LENGTHY but often defensive evidence from Brent Hogan, GRNSW CEO, covered animal welfare, expenditure on the failed project at The Gardens, reasons for the rise in authority costs and changes for country tracks. Chairman Eve McGregor was also present but spoke rarely.
A current joint initiative by GRNSW and GRV to upgrade welfare issues and trainer education had been announced the day prior to this hearing. Other steps taken in this area had commenced last November, or well after the establishment of the inquiry, something the committee seemed to regard as a happy coincidence.
Mr Hogan was at pains to reject any validity in submissions that GRNSW was not responsive to complaints from participants. Committee deputy chair, Dr Kaye, had asked him to respond to “issues raised by greyhound industry participants that are not necessarily directly related to money. The issues relate to the behaviour of your organisation and the stewards, and particularly their behaviour towards people who have spoken out against decisions you have made.”
Hogan responded that this was all prompted by the lack of sufficient increases in prize money in the last few years.
THE RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations spent much time lambasting the industry for its lack of attention to welfare matters, including the use of drugs, but generally lacked definitive evidence of abuses and were short on figures. By one measure, it turned out that of 5,562 shortcomings referred to RSPCA, only half related to dogs of any sort and only 35 related to greyhounds, which is 0.62% of the total. Separately, the RSPCA said of 15,000 complaints, half involved dogs but only 79 of those were greyhounds. That’s 0.5% of the total.
Note that these percentages relate to complaints and the like. When compared with the total number of dogs bred or racing, the proportions are miniscule. Consequently, the committee was not impressed by claims that these problems were “systemic”, as claimed.
The RSPCA was not able to advise of any figures for other breeds of dogs or for horses, which weakens their arguments and poses some serious questions about how the organisation is run. Curiously, it made no comments about poor track designs, which would be a major factor in greyhound injuries.
The RSPCA’s main thrust was to adopt the Chinese solution – a reduction in breeding numbers so as to also reduce euthanasia rates. It would do that by issuing permits to intending breeders. Who would assess the numbers? Not sure. Who would pay for the clerical work? Not sure. Would other breeds be targeted as well? Not stated. Who would police the breeders? Not sure either, but perhaps extra RSPCA inspectors?
MORE interesting was evidence from Dr Karen Cunnington, a vet who runs a rehoming centre and also works for the Racing Science Centre in Brisbane. Her own experience and testing revealed that many greyhounds offered for rehoming were found unsuitable because they were unable to adjust to new environments. Dr Cunnington’s work suggests that this is due to a lack of socialisation amongst dogs as they are growing up. The inability to regularly relate to other dogs at this time, due to kennelling practices, led to emotional barriers that were hard to overcome in later life. This offers food for thought.
MANY discussions at the hearing were inconclusive as witnesses concentrated more on making speeches than giving the committee the hard information they needed and asked for. Dozens of items were parked as witnesses disappeared down a “take under notice” escape route.
Still, the committee appears to be relentlessly unearthing the facts and should end up with a fairly good appreciation of what makes greyhound racing tick. How it will weigh up conflicting evidence remains to be seen.