What Can We Learn From Australian Greyhound Racing Revival?
Greyhound racing in Britain and Ireland is missing a trick. Many tricks. But at Betting On Sports 2019 next week, the industry will seek to learn from a jurisdiction which revived itself from a state-wide ban.
New South Wales in Australia faced a permanent ban of greyhound racing, when government reacted to an expose on live baiting practices, broadcast through Panorama-style documentary program Four Corners in 2015.
Trainers highlighted were immediately suspended, and an inquiry was launched to investigate the integrity and welfare safeguards of Greyhound Racing New South Wales. In July the following year, it was announced that greyhound racing would be permanently banned in 12 months time.
In an interview presented as part of Gambling.com's media partnership with Betting on Sports 2019, which will take place at the Olympia in London from September 17-20, we spoke with GRNSW's new Head of Wagering Adrian Molloy about greyhound racing's resurrection, personality and new wealth in New South Wales.
Defeating The Greyhound Racing Ban
New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said the report he commissioned after the Four Corners episode showed that greyhound racing did not have the culture or the willingness to change.
He said it didn't have the 'social license' to continue to race, and that he would pass legislation banning the sport from his state, beginning July 1, 2017. But despite the damning allegations made in that documentary, the over-riding public feeling was that a ban was not warranted.
"What we subsequently saw was public backlash at its strongest and effectively the general public said, 'you can’t just ban an entire industry, you have to give it a chance to reform'," revealed Molloy, "so the Premier rescinded his ban. He fell on his sword because of that."
Only months after issuing the ban, Baird was forced by public support to back-track, and soon stepped down from his position, having lost too much of that public support to continue. Though not entirely due to the greyhound racing ban issue, it was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back.
Implementing Reform To Revive
"What happened then was that the government organised a big research piece into the industry, and we needed to implement the recommended reforms," said Molloy. "Essentially that’s how I got into it. I was brought in by the new CEO."
He added: It’s really interesting being at the coalface of an industry that has experienced something like that, and then having to bring it back and effectively buy back that social license again, gain the trust of those in the public, who all of a sudden had an opinion on greyhound racing."
First on the agenda was addressing the welfare concerns set out in the Four Corners expose, with GRNSW establishing what it describes as a 'world-best practice'. From more stringent measures to punish those caught using live bait in training, to legislation banning the export of greyhounds to countries known for mistreatment, the organisation feels it has created as strong an animal welfare policy as possible.
>> Read about Irish greyhound racing's Four Corners moment
"We’ve got to make sure we rehome all of our dogs, for example," he said. "We’ve got Timmy Cahill, who people from the UK will know through his football exploits, as our welfare ambassador and it’s all about the lifecycle of the greyhound, from the moment it’s born.
"When you do things like ban exports to China, now you don’t leave yourself open to what happens elsewhere, because you didn’t facilitate the export of the greyhound in the first place. All these kinds of things contribute to the number one priority, which is greyhound welfare - and it has to be these days."
Greyhound Racing's New Story
People did not just begin trusting greyhound racing again in New South Wales, the reforms and rejuvenation of the sport brought in a whole new, much younger fanbase.
"This is something I’m really looking forward to coming over to the UK to delve into," said Molloy, "because I know that probably the experience in UK and Ireland is that betting on greyhounds might have stagnated, or dropped, but we are seeing the absolute opposite here.
"Probably the biggest thing that has been the eye-opener, since I joined up, has been the popularity with the Millenial demographic - the 18-34s absolutely love it."
Molloy's research with the corporate bookmakers he liases with for GRNSW suggest that 18-34s enjoy picking their favourite racing colour, and having small wagers when relaxing, say after lectures, when they are at university. One key reason they support greyhound racing over horse racing is the lack of human intervention.
"At the end of the day, it’s just the dog and no one else," said Molloy. "What I think happens, and it is a perception thing, if they see a thoroughbred getting caught behind other horses, they very easily default to blaming the jockey. Whereas in a greyhound race, if there’s interference and a bump on the first turn, they just go, 'oh well, that’s just racing, the dogs bumped into each other'."
Young and old people alike also like the fact that in Australia dogs are called by their names in all races in commentary. Fans in Britain and Ireland will generally only hear dogs referred to by the number of the trap that they start the race in.
Give Greyhound Racing Personality
"I think there’s one real fundamental that seems to me gets lost in a lot of the UK greyhound racing, and that’s probably why its suffered somewhat," said Molloy. In Australia, every single greyhound gets called by its name, its not just called by trap number, and I know its different in different places.
"I’ve seen some videos of Shelbourne Park and in the Irish Derby the caller calls the names, but I see other tracks where it’s just, ‘trap 1, beating trap 2’, and I just think, 'you know what, if you really want it to resonate with the public, give it some personality."
He added: "We’ve got a greyhound at the moment called Feral Franky. Imagine a name like Feral Franky, straight away it resonates with people. They go, 'Feral Franky, what a legend'. And he’s actually a really, really good dog, and he won his heat the other night for the Million Dollar Chase.
"All of a sudden you’ve got a greyhound that’s got a cult following, just because he’s got such a great name and you told people what it was. It can be just the simplistic things like that, that can really help drive wagering and interest in the product."
The Million Dollar Chase
Sharing knowledge gained from the greyhound racing reboot in New South Wales is first on Molloy's agenda at Betting On Sports 2019, but he also wants to promote the biggest thing to come out of that, the Million Dollar Chase.
It was launched in 2018 as the world's richest greyhound race, a series of regional qualifiers building up to a grand final at Sydney's Wentworth Park, where the winner walks away with AU$1million. The winner of the biggest races on the British and Irish greyhound racing calendar, the English and Irish Derby's, take home merely £100,000 and €140,000.
This race, set to run its second ever final this October, Molloy feels could be the key to making greyhound racing more international.
"I want to internationalise and globalise greyhound racing," he said. "It’s been done with thoroughbreds, why can’t it be done with greyhounds?
"For a dog coming into Australia, it's quite some time in quarantine, so there is a lot of logistical stuff that we need to filter through over the course of time, but I think we could get there, and maybe one day we could be sitting here talking about an Irish dog that’s come down and won the Million Dollar Chase."
He added: "This year we’ve actually timed it that our pinnacle race, the Million Dollar Chase, is on a Friday night. The next day at Randwick is The Everest (the world's richest turf thoroughbred race), and at the same time that day in Melbourne is the Caulfield Cup, which is a traditional lead up race for the Melbourne Cup.
"So we’re creating this wonderful weekend of racing, and we’ll be sold out at our track Wentworth Park, there will be a lot of thoroughbred people going to it, and the next day the greyhound fans will be at Randwick. It’s a celebration of racing across all codes."
Adrian Molloy will speak on a panel entitled, “International racing - thoroughbred and greyhound racing” at Betting on Sports 2019 at 4:35pm on Wednesday, September 18.
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