Parliamentary Inquiry Ventures In To A Minefield

Written By Monday 2nd September 2013  

Parliamentary Inquiry Ventures In To A Minefield

Just before an election is a funny time for minority parties to start an inquiry into greyhound racing but that’s what the NSW Upper House is doing. It’s also interesting that the government has agreed to let it run as proposed, which suggests the Racing Minister, George Souris, is happy to see someone stir the pot. Mr Souris’ National Party is not well known for its adventurous behaviour. He represents the area around Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter.

But will it achieve anything? Normally, official inquiries are organised so that few surprises emerge. Since neither the government or the opposition are in charge this one could be different.

The main push is coming from Dr John Kaye (Greens), who was appointed to fill a vacancy, and Mr Robert Borsak (Shooters), both highly qualified professional men in their own right in engineering and accounting respectively. However, neither has previously claimed any interest or experience in the racing industry.

Their claims, and the terms of reference, cover two broad areas:animal welfare/a>and management practices.

However, the preamble to the establishment of the inquiry contains largely unsubstantiated claims, silly statements and innuendo. It further states the inquiry “is essential to address the public loss of confidence in the industry’s management”. There are some complaints from participants, yes, but there is no basis for this claim in the broad sense. Nevertheless, it would be good to learn exactly how the public do regard greyhound racing, whether they are players, punters or the average man in the street.

Should the inquiry wish to go down that road, nothing less than a professionally conducted research project would be needed. Anecdotal evidence and submissions from vested interests do not cut the mustard.

Do abuses of animal welfare principles occur? Of course. Odd ones have been documented over the years and trainers have been punished as a result. But many thousands of dogs were well cared for at the same time. In this context, greyhound racing is no different to any other part of society, whether involving animals or humans. Do we ban football or fast bowling because injuries occur?

The key is whether authorities are reacting well enough to any abuses. The inquiry may well bring that out but it should ensure the evidence is complete, balanced and professionally reviewed. After all, the industry invests a large amount of resources in supervising races, drug use and inspecting trainers’ kennels. If officials are not doing a good enough job then we should hear about it. Once again, only a forensic, independent investigation will uncover the facts.

However, it is interesting to learn from an American example in the state of Massachusetts. In response to community pressure, the government ran a plebiscite to determine whether it should continue to licence greyhound racing. In the event, the NO vote just won, largely because anti-racing lobbies (to both horses and dogs) carried the day, and two tracks were shut down. But a key piece of evidence showed that the percentage of injuries to greyhounds was lower than that in the state’s kindergartens. Emotions ruled the roost, rather than facts.

The issue of management practices is a different story. It involves both the structure of the industry and the way the incumbents do their job.

All the evidence tells us that racing in general has been losing its way for the last 30 years.Breedingnumbers are flat or declining – for both horses and greyhounds – at a time when more low class dogs are dredged up and more races are programmed. Betting turnover, the industry’s lifeblood, has been flat out keeping up with inflation. Wagering on races has seen a fall from 50% to around 10% in market share. Both punters and gamblers have been turning to other options, such as sports betting, casinos and poker machines. The drop in racecourse attendances due to the attractions of neighbourhood SKY pictures has resulted in a decrease in knowledge of the finer aspects of racing – hence the rise of mug gamblers as a proportion of the total. Skill is disappearing. Tipsters now dominate the market.

More recently, betting turnover has been refreshed by the addition of new operators (NT bookmakers and Betfair) but they have done little more than make up for the continuing downturn in traditional outlets such as TABs.

Racing management has reacted poorly, or not at all, to these trends. Indeed, initially NSW greyhound authorities strongly opposed the introduction of the newcomers, even though evidence from the UK flatly contradicted their views. Nearly all other governments, racing authorities and TABs did likewise. Further, efforts to adopt new marketing ventures have been absent or ineffectual. Some local community promotions and a push to increase placement of retired greyhounds have been worthy efforts but lack sufficient impact to make a difference in main street Australia. A big part of the problem is that the industry is national in character but state-centric in operation.

The root cause of this failure has to be sheeted down to the way authorities are set up and the way they operate.

Raceclubs are managed by amateur committees. State authorities are managed by paid committees. Both are part-time. Neither is able to compete adequately in today’s challenging commercial environment. In either case it seems that neatness is all that counts. Effectiveness is irrelevant. Yes, the state auditor checks the books at the end of the year but only to make sure the arithmetic is correct. No-one evaluates whether the use of the cash was worthwhile.

For example, breeding subsidies go to local owners and studs (which are often highly profitable units) but no evidence is ever produced that the investments generate a realistic dividend. They are just politicised handouts. One state is much the same as another.

Currently, subsidies are going to dogs winning distance races yet the justifications, objectives and outcomes of these projects are never stated let alone audited.

Of bigger importance are the huge amounts that go into the construction of new or re-built tracks. For example, millions of dollars of capital have gone to track developments atWentworth Park Bulli, Maitland, Gosford, The Gardens (Newcastle), Dapto and Richmond but all have produced either worse results or repeated errors that pre-existed. Dapto remains a disruptive track (hence the falls already nominated by the inquiry), the flat first turn at Richmond still throws off runners, while Bulli is probably worse. Maitland became more biased after its first turn was changed while the turn into the straight sees dogs wandering off towards the outside fence. Both Gosford and The Gardens had obvious design faults, some of which had to be fixed just months after opening. Casino and Lismore are long overdue for complete re-building.

Not only do these faults involve the use of scarce funds but they must also affect the safety of runners. Interference and falls necessarily put dogs at risk, both physically and emotionally. They also turn off punters looking for consistency.

At the core of these troubles is the absence of serious study of the science of track design. No-one has ever bothered to do any homework, despite considerable pleading to establish an expert panel to look into it. Guesswork and personal opinions therefore dominate. Engineering firms draw up lovely bits of paper but have no actual knowledge of the racing subject.

GRNSW has not only declined to take those steps but has used flawed reasoning to justify its actions – eg stating (in respect to Maitland) “such measures have been successful elsewhere” when no such evidence is available, rather the contrary.

In the end, who is to call state authorities to account? Nominally, the Minister and his department have a duty there but it is rare to see them interfere. The “arm’s length” principle is quoted, although sometimes ignored when it suits the political need. Otherwise, racing “shareholders” are able only to complain from a distance but are seldom able to influence outcomes. Ombudsmen are absent and the Integrity Auditor has only very limited coverage.

Of course, the Minister appoints board members in a system where the approach varies from one government to another. More usually, that involves telling the industry it has to look after itself and so people with past racing exposure get the job. For example, previous NSW boards were wholly comprised of club representatives and the like, ensuring a single or dual dominant force ruled the roost. Conflict of interest was massive. The last changeover altered things somewhat yet every member of the current board has some previous formal involvement with a racing organisation. It has no fully independent advice available to it.

The fact that unjustifiable projects and poor track standards have persisted tells us that excellence is a long way from being achieved. It is undoubtedly one reason why there has been a long and continuing history of dog migration from NSW to Victoria, especially for better dogs.

Indeed, a current extraordinary proposal by GRNSW seeks to remove the Tweed Heads club from NSW and deposit it in Queensland. There are no stated reasons for this change although the Queensland authority has welcomed the idea. How the reduced tax income would be welcomed by the NSW Treasurer is unknown. How the state would handle its contractual obligations to Tabcorp, which runs the Tweed tote, is unknown. How Queensland’s Tattsbet could legally take over racing in an interstate location is unknown, too. And how it gets around constitutional requirements is an even bigger mystery.

In business terms, the racing system has long been broken yet there are no moves whatever to bring about reform. For that, state governments must bear the responsibility. The inquiry might well look not just to other racing jurisdictions (all tuned to the 1950s) but also to numerous primary industry boards and management structures which have been compelled to upgrade to modern commercial standards – wool, wheat, meat and livestock, etc, etc.

Greyhound racing has plenty ofadministration What it lacks is modern management.

Bruce Teague Bruce Teague (356 Articles)

Bruce Teague has had a lifelong interest in greyhound racing as a modest punter. Over the last 20 years he has helped develop and market the GreyBase range of computer form analysis programs, and written extensively for several industry publications. He has inspected over 30 greyhound tracks in recent years in the three eastern states and Tasmania. Bruce has a lengthy background in international and domestic airline management involving economic route studies and numerous visits to overseas aircraft manufacturers. He has conducted consultancies for private and government clients on policy and economic subjects.


5 comments
John Tracey
John Tracey

Bruce's cut and paste follows/

Indeed, a current extraordinary proposal by GRNSW seeks to remove the Tweed Heads club from NSW and deposit it in Queensland. There are no stated reasons for this change although the Queensland authority has welcomed the idea. How the reduced tax income would be welcomed by the NSW Treasurer is unknown. How the state would handle its contractual obligations to Tabcorp, which runs the Tweed tote, is unknown. How Queensland’s Tattsbet could legally take over racing in an interstate location is unknown, too. And how it gets around constitutional requirements is an even bigger mystery.


Just some information requested on why Harold Park was able to get a rezoning of its land and get a sale price closer to $200 million instead of selling on the previous zoning for around $30 Million and why Tweed Heads which has the only real estate in NSW Greyhounds which land if sold would represent a figure above replacement cost for relocation, could  not follow in Harold Park's footsteps..

The answer to the first part of the question is relatively simple, the answer to the second part is not known,

The Harold Park arrangements potentially exceeded $100 MIllion for a rezoned sale . This put the project out of reach of the council if the matter was pushed. Harold Park came to an arrangement with the developers, the public and the council for all the parties to compromise and come to a settlement without needing the matter being determined externally. Even though Harold Park received a price probably under the development value it nevertheless showed considerable skill and maturity in what ended up as a successful public and private partnership involving Government, the Developer, the public and the non for profit organisation in harmony with the Premier's Department policy memorandum in the early 2000 era. It is interesting that Harold Park under its old arrangements would have been forced out of Harold Park anyway (figures were showing considerable  losses).

John Tracey
John Tracey

Bruce,

This may be of interest on your point with regard to the number of administrations in what is essentially a national sport.

In 1938 the sport was predominantly run in NSW with the same number of greyhounds competing in races then that are competing in races nationally today. The central administration was confined to the principal club of the NSW Trotting and was relatively cheaply run. Today there are nine control boards Australia wide so the central administration per unit of greyhounds is very high.

Interestingly the return to the greyhound participant of under 10% of his outlay to race in prize money returns has been a consistent percentage through the ages and today it has been calculated at 16.5%. These percentages would be subject to experimental error or variations in the methodology of the calculations but they are in the same ballpark.

Another interesting figure pops up in the statistics (ABS) relating to the number of active players in the field earning a full time living for their occupation. The combined percentages for all recreational, wagering and the arts is 1.8% which is slightly lower than the greyhounds which were assessed at 2.1%. These figures would be subject to a degree of experimental error but they show that the greyhound activity is not very different percentage wise to any other similar activity   

The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld.: 1874 - 1954) Thursday 9th June 1938 page I.

Previous issue

Thursday 9 June 1938

Next issue

Page

RAPID GROWTH

Greyhound Racing In N.S.W

For seven greyhound races at Harold Park (Sydney) one Saturday night recently 1420 entries were received.


Eleven years ago this would have meant that practically every racing dog: in New South Wales had been nominated.to-day, so rapid has been the growth of mechanical hare racing since its introduction in 1927, it represents only a small percentage of the   dogs eligible for nomination.

Fifteen years ago, when dog racing was confined to live hare coursing, there were 21 clubs in the State, and the sport was a very minor one.

Coursing dogs were imported into NSW at the beginning of Tin Hare Racing.

To-day "tin-hare" racing has become big business.

There are 47 clubs (excluding live hare clubs), which between them conduct about 1670 meetings a year.

At these meetings race about 18,000 dogs, of which 7500 are in the metropolitan

Area.  

In addition, there are about 20,000 puppies under 12 months registered And. the total is growing every year.

In 1937 the National Coursing Association alone registered 2264 litters, which produced 16,750 puppies-an increase of 7049 on the 1936 figure.

. Prize money distributed each year totals about £150,000.  

Tile richest races are the New South Wales Derby and the Oaks, both run at Harold Park. They are each worth £1050


Most of the profits are distributed   among show societies, hospitals, ambulances, and non-proprietary race clubs, returned soldiers' organisations, fruit growers' associations, and other charitable and public bodies.


In the metropolitan area 15 per cent of the gross takings goes into consolidated revenue by way of a surtax   recently imposed.

The sport finds employment for 600 bookmakers, aided by probably 500 clerks. At Harold Park alone 180

Fielders are registered.  

There are about 600 trainers, 8000 owners and 2000 lessees and breeders. Others employed directly or indirectly bring the total up to nearly 20,000.

These men and women are drawn from all walks of life. Many are of humble occupation.

PRINTED and Published for the

North Queensland Newspaper Co, Ltd., at Gill) Street, Charters Towers, by Kevin 8. Meager, Ryan Street,Charter

Towers  

It is known as a "poor man's sport,' but the figures belies this title.

A good dog costs as much us 150 pounds and with stud fees raising every year, breeding has become an expensive proposition

The State meat bill for greyhounds is estimated at £160,000 a year, and biscuits and other food amount to probably another £100,000.

Add to this the cost or racing gear, wages, medicines, veterinary fees, nomination fees, transport and other Incidental expenses and the annual total rises to about £1,600,000.- "Sydney Daily Telegraph".

Some of these details can be checked but they are in the ball park. The percentage of costs to prize money is about the same as previous reports published from 1969 (Survey) up till 2004. (ACTIL and EIR reports) 

Close


AaronC
AaronC

Hear that? That, is the sound of inevitability..

Kyleigh Fahey
Kyleigh Fahey

You can't liken greyhound racing to fast bowling or other sports that involve humans, there is a massive difference between a human that can refuse to do something after weighing up dangers and an animal that just does as its told, this inquiry is not a good thing, the antis have more of a voice than we do because they are united, they have one goal only, racing is full of high school bitching and jealousy they don't know how to stand united

John Tracey
John Tracey

@Kyleigh Fahey

I am working as a consultant to the Greyhound Action Group to provide information and encourage submissions to the equiry.

Your fear that submissions from greyhound people might be scarce is not totally unreasonable as in the past very few greyhound people have submitted to inquiry. We are hoping that as this inquiry has a participant ownership as well as a few remarks made in Bruce Teague's head article that submissions will be forthcoming. Hopefully you will submit yourself a become one vote for us.

I will leave you and others with the details of the next meeting and prompts to the enquiry. I understand the points you are making but my brief is in process , information and not debating content. 


Notice of a Greyhound Action Group NSW Consultative MeetingPosted on September 13, 2013 | Leave a comment

Notice of a Greyhound Action Group NSW Consultative Meeting

A Consultative Meeting Greyhound Action Group NSW Inc is called at 1pm on 29 September 2013 at the Richmond Greyhound Track Raceway.

The purpose of the meeting is to explain progress and encourage submissions to the Legislative Council Inquiry conducted by the Greyhound Racing in NSW Committee.

The Greyhound Action Group has discharged its duties to members in regards to the viability of the NSW greyhound racing industry with particular reference to the industry business revenue model including percentage distributions. This has been done by a submission having been forwarded to the Inquiry to be made available publicly on the Inquiry website.

All details on written submissions can be found on the Greyhound Action Group websitehttp://www.greyhoundactiongroupnsw.net/submissionsfactsheet/

We are proceeding with ways to convert spoken submissions to written submissions and this will be discussed at the meeting along with the meaning of submissions which can not be considered that come under the meaning of “frivolous or vexatious”

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