I don’t care whether the industry’s power brokers enjoy greyhound racing. More frustrating is that they don’t ‘get’ it. One high placed individual in the betting industry recently described the sport as, ‘a filler to keep them in the shop while they are betting on horses and football.’

To him I would make two points:

– Carry on at current rates and greyhound racing will be gone within five years. You won’t have enough income to finance it.

– You clearly haven’t worked out that you are sitting on the best gambling product – ever!


Back in January I was asked to contribute to the ‘oral history of greyhound racing’ project. (Of all the places for the recording to take place, they chose the Cherry Red Records Stadium. The nest of vipers that is home to AFC Wimbledon.)

In the talk I reflected on the 98 year history of the sport. But it wasn’t a rose tinted view. You know the sort of thing. When you remember 15,000 at Walthamstow for a Grand Prix Final and conveniently forget the Tuesday nights near the end with probably 150 people on the premises.

This was more of a ‘what can we learn from history?’ thought process.

I had forgotten just how huge greyhound racing had become in the blink of an eye. 1925 – zero greyhound tracks. By 1930, there were 17 million people going greyhound racing.

That growth rate accelerated away. The 1946 attendances were 191 million. Greyhound racing had overtaken horseracing and was challenging football as Britain’s no.1 spectator sport.

No other activity or sport has come close to that growth – ever! And it was betting-led.

But for Adolf Hitler, and the 94% post war taxes on greyhound racing, combined with straitjacket legislation, the course of history might have been so different.

My sliding doors moment would have seen greyhound promoters taking ever increasing control of the gambling industry long before illegal back street bookies like Joe Coral and William Hill opened their first betting shops in 1961.

Had the Government taken a different route, a state controlled model might have been similar to Australia.


Now I accept that society has changed dramatically in the near eight decades since the war ended and that is usually given as the main reason for the decline of dog racing. (Human nature hasn’t, by the way)

I do get the social evolution argument. To a point.

JK coined the expression this week that in recent years ‘staying in became the new going out’.

That lifestyle change has hit other sports too. Just ask our stadium co-tenants, speedway and stock cars.

It’s not a lot of fun standing out in the rain when you have an X-box at home, a digibox with 200 channels or the entire www.theworld to surf.

But that’s a cop out argument.

Football has evolved. The Premier League is the biggest selling sporting event in the world. So has cricket. Forget the four day game. The IPL starts this Friday!

Darts, boxing, they have all adapted to move with the times.

Dog racing? If you took a 1970s Hackney punter into a betting shop today, he would probably feel quite at home.

Until he realised he couldn’t speed-scribble his bet quick enough to get on before the next race. Or that he was punting into an industry contrived SP of between 128-135%.

That is the extent of greyhound racing’s evolution.

When the Government banned FOBT machines, the betting industry decided that greyhound racing should take its place. Something, anything, for the needy and greedy to bet on.

At least the FOBT’s were legally required to produce a minimum pay-out. There is none on greyhound racing.

Greyhound racing – once the no.1 betting sport in Britain – has indeed been reduced to cheap filler.


Now you might assume from the above statement that I am anti bookmaker. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While I might feel frustrated at their lack of vision and degrading the sport I love, I want the bookies to succeed and thrive. I really want them to make fortunes from greyhound racing.

It wasn’t always so.

Back in the bad old days of a BAGS monopoly – something that evolved, it would never have been allowed to set-up that way – the betting industry took advantage of the surplus of greyhound ‘product’.

Greyhound racing was screwed to a point of exploitation.

Not so now.

There are a finite number of tracks, greyhounds, trainers and kennels and the numbers are falling. As we reported earlier in the year, in the last 20 years, the annual number of greyhounds registered to race in Britain has fallen from 10,709 to 5,899.

Over the same period the number of Irish bred litters has fallen from 4,827 to 1,691 per year. The British equivalent is 908 to 145 (approx – registrations close in a fortnight).


So is a ‘single greyhound service’ the answer?

While there may currently be ‘slightly’ too many tracks for a ‘single service’ solution, natural wastage will inevitably see that number decline further.

There will surely come a point when the product becomes so threadbare – empty traps, uncompetitive racing – that the betting industry looks for something better.

(Interestingly though, that may not be imminent. The fact that the cheap filler model can now operate to industry odds means that it is impossible for the bookies not to make money on greyhound racing.)

Pound for pound, greyhound racing is far more lucrative than horseracing. There just aren’t as many £££s bet.

There are also other issues that lean towards the creation of a strong deliverable single service – geography.

For example, in the South East, Central Park, Crayford, Hove and Romford are all owned by ARC/Entain. They can – and do – fight each other for trainers.

No matter how much prize money, or the size of the retainer, it isn’t practical for the South East tracks to have attached trainers in the Midlands. Even if it was, that would only damage their own businesses at Monmore and Perry Barr.


What are the issues in creating a single service?

Commercial rivals such as Bet365 and William Hill, perhaps even Fred Done, would be nervous about handing over absolute control to ARC/Entain.

There is also be a long standing issue between SIS and ARC, which at times, has seemed almost ‘personal’.

Notwithstanding the commercial and relationship difficulties, many years of experience in dealing with bookies convinces me that it will happen.

Bookies are by nature, ‘practical’ (if I am being generous). They would sleep with the enemy or have their grandmothers sleep with the enemy if there was money to be made.

It is also an incestuous industry – check out the ex-SIS people at ARC, or ex-Ladbrokes people at SIS.

As one senior figure once put it – ‘be careful who you piss off in our industry. In six months time he could be your boss’.

Also – like every other industry, it is transitory. The protagonists from a 20 year old shit fight are now picking up their grandkids from nursery.

It wouldn’t be an equal partnership. PGR would be in the driving seat, but SIS has reduced its greyhound racing profile anyway.

But that doesn’t mean that a deal couldn’t be hammered out?

In my view, one and three quarter ‘stretched’ services could be squeezed into a ‘one and a bit’ better service of more competitive racing and fewer empty traps.

They could absorb the ‘bit’ for better efficiency.

It would take some goodwill but there would be savings to be made. Tracks with five meetings, move to four and everybody have a nicer and more sustainable life.

I am convinced that one way or another – sooner or later – a single greyhound service is necessary and inevitable.


Why greyhound racing needs a single service.

I see two main reasons.

First – the decline in betting on greyhounds has huge repercussions on welfare. The BGRF (the Fund) will inevitably be hit.

It is all very well saying that Entain customers (45% of the retail market) unable to bet on the English Derby (or any other SIS event), will bet on different PGR product.

But will they?

A percentage of every pound bet on virtual or any other option, is a pound lost to greyhound racing. Lost to welfare at a time that we cannot afford to lose a penny.

Secondly – and this may be an optimistic hope too far – would a single service lead to the individual bookmaking companies actually trying to compete for the same market and offering a better service?

Because at the moment, what they are offering is an embarrassment!


What are the opportunities to drive growth in greyhound betting?

We are still to discover how committed PGR are to broadcasting. They are making all the right noises with good people in situ, but they now have to deliver! The recent appointment of continuity presenters is progress.

(It remains to be seen what the Sportstuff replacement will offer, but I would need to be convinced that it has any merit.)

Everyone needs to be more innovative and try harder.

In terms of delivery – how many millions have been lost because the betting shop service never puts anyone in place to encourage interest/betting in those pauses between races?

Okay – there are manic periods of too many races – much of which would be reduced by a single service. But there are also times of absolute silence watching paraders wander aimlessly around before a race.

Could they increase betting on dogs by 10-20% simply by giving audio input? There is more than enough visual data to send a punter word-blind.

Greyhound racing’s digital service is abysmal. The quality of websites of some of the supposed ‘big players’ is appalling.

It isn’t so long ago that I attempted to post ante post prices for a Ladbrokes sponsored event and couldn’t find any on the website.

I’m told that they are aware of problems. Hopefully – the recent massive shake-up seeing Entain bring its retail and digital arms under one business will address that.

Guys – everyone now has a betting shop in their pocket!

What about the gaming market?

Tipping contests with prizes with big cash prizes. Those teenagers in their bedrooms playing Call Of Duty and now adults playing sophisticated gambling games.

Look at the growth of on-line casinos and poker.

For God’s someone – anyone – recognise greyhound racing for what it should be – before it is too late.

We are more than a cheap filler!