“Greyhound racing is all about betting”
Now I can almost hear a thousand voices shout, ‘no it isn’t, I never back my dogs’. ‘That’s rubbish! I don’t bet’.
I have extracted the quote from my memory and it was made several years ago by Bob Morton, a greyhound owner and supporter for more than 50 years.
I remember questioning it at the time, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised Bob was spot on. (He usually is!)
As much as owners and trainers love the dogs for their own sake, it is betting that builds the stadiums and pays the prize money.
Take betting away and you are left with whippet or Jack Russell racing.
The problem for greyhound racing is that betting has changed dramatically and the traditional model no longer works.
I am too young to remember 100 bookies at White City. But I can remember a couple of dozen spread between the cheap side and main ring. These days, you do well to spot two or three joints at any track and they are often there for the wrong reasons.
There needs to be a betting market and at most SIS/TRP daytime meetings, you could fit all the bookies and punters into the judges box and still have room for the racing manager’s camp bed.
The days of layers like Tony Morris, Tom Jenkins and Douggie Tyler are over. These are the guys who would form an opinion, or pay for someone else’s, and then engage in a battle of wits, mathematics, judgement and bottle to form a vibrant market.
Well they are gone – and they are never coming back.
The modern track bookie is on a hiding to nothing. He knows he can never compete with the betting exchanges so he fiddles around with a mobile phone adjusting his board to ensure minimal exposure to the betting shops.
It was the opening of betting shops in the early 1960s that wreaked havoc with greyhound racing, and the same shops who have been the lifeline for the last 30.
Remove betting shops and we are back to whippets and Jack Russells.
The problem is, the betting shop model has its own expiry date. The impending cull of the FOBT machines (sooner or later) will inevitably lead to shop closures.
It is common knowledge that the machines form the bulk of the shop’s profits with live action a very poor second.
Personally, I reckon the shop closure numbers will be much greater than the actual decline in revenue. Do we really need six betting shops within 200 yards in a High Street? How much betting volume will be lost if there were only two?
I guess that in betting HQs in Rayners Lane, Leeds, Barking and Warrington little huddles of executives are devising plans for all those reddies that aren’t going into FOBT machines – or taking 50 times as long to hand over.
Some appear to be diversifying – such as the planned acquisition by William Hill of the Scandinavian betting company Mr Green.
I wonder if greyhound racing has come into anyone’s growth plans?
Probably not, given the betting industry’s absence of imagination with anything ‘greyhound’.
Now many readers will have their own ideas, much better than anything I have to put forward.
But here is a starter.
You are a punter, you want to play to earn big bucks. The next race from Nottingham is off in two minutes.
Find the terminal and go for the ‘first to last’ terminal. I want T5-T3-T6-T1-T2-T4 correct order. What are the odds? 278-1. No, not big enough, I’m going for the 4-6 favourite to finish fifth. 470-1. No, I might do both.
Race over. Damn! Next time I’ll do the ‘straight four’. The terminal says 143-1.
Now I have no idea whether the odds are realistic, I preferred the life as a kennel lad, to taking A-level maths. But is the concept so bizarre?
The technology is already out there if I want a digital quote to back Mane as the first goal scorer with Liverpool to win 3-0 with four corners and six bookings.
What about ‘in-play’ trap numbers for a race meeting? Trap one started off at 4-1 at the start of the meeting, and three races in is out to 9-1. Three short priced favourites in red later in the card.
Or the ten race acca – guaranteed winnings of X00000-1. Let’s play.
Regular readers will know I have long subscribed to the theory that whatever the life of the betting shops, the long term future is internet and globally linked tote pools.
Technology simplifies the broadcasting of pictures to phones and laptops along with simple betting options.
Within the last few days, I was chatting to an incredibly clever former SKY (and Setanta and BT) lawyer and he reckons the existing broadcasting model has no more than two or three years.
Everything will change very quickly with the Government commitment to Superfast broadband by 2020. Both SKY and BT will become junior players in our viewing future.
(As a complete aside to greyhound racing, my very switched-on pal also reckons rugby has major problems with many of the big public schools already banning the sport for fear of injury claims)
Now tie that in with another conversation I have had within the last week.
The suggestion is that among the leading players vying to take over Towcester is a company with the facility to deliver both pictures and betting opportunities globally over the internet.
It is not such a big stretch of imagination if you consider the current growth of betting streaming.
How serious a player are we talking? I really don’t know but in the words of my source “they only see the UK betting shops as a secondary market”.
Among the people at the recent launch of Charles Blanning’s incredible book on coursing Greyhound and the Hare was former North East vet Frances Allen.
She had actually confirmed the sale of her practice the same morning and seemed pretty disillusioned with greyhound racing.
She also warned of the problems likely to face dog tracks post Brexit with a shortage of newly qualified UK vets, and an even greater shortage of UK vets wanting to work long unsociable hours.
On the subject of broadcasting, I see that the BBC are planning to broadcast the FA Cup tie between Haringey and AFC Wimbledon.
It will be a kind of special ‘GRA occasion’.
In the next round I am hoping for Portsmouth v Slough, or Watford v Charlton – to be played at Wembley of course.
I bumped into former BGRB welfare officer Peter Laurie at the recent APDAW meeting in London.
Peter is the second in command at Battersea Dogs Home but retains a keen interest in greyhound racing and is a regular visitor to this website.
He was particularly interested to hear if I had spoken to John Haynes recently following his health problems. Sadly, John is on a long list of calls I am overdue making.
“A really good man, John” recalled Peter. “Without doubt the best Chairman of the Welfare Committee that the BGRB ever had”
When the GBGB were the subject of a City of London enquiry, Peter was determined to testify as to Haynes’ integrity and honesty should it ever have been needed.
I hope to persuade Peter into writing an article at some stage, explaining how he sees the future of animal welfare and the outside perception of greyhound welfare.
We arrived at Portcullis House at the same time and as someone who usually looks gets dragged aside for the personal search at airport security, I was quite amused when the Westminster Security team decided Peter was the more dubious looking individual for a quick frisk.
“I can vouch for him” I suggested helpfully to the guy in uniform.
“That’s Osama Bin Laurie”
In return I was shot the glance usually reserved for people who have shat on the Westminster carpet.