How Greyhound Racing Has Risen From Baiting Scandal

SIX years after the live baiting scandal, greyhound racing has bounced back in great fashion with positive welfare progress and booming turnover.

Ben Dorries

24 February 2021

Six years after the greyhound racing Ground Zero when the live-baiting scandal threatened to wipe out the sport, it has bounced back in promising fashion with positive welfare progress combined with booming wagering turnover.

It was February 16, 2015, a day now etched in infamy, when ABC’s Four Corners aired shocking footage of live piglets, possums and rabbits being used to “blood’ greyhounds during secret training sessions.

There were greyhound investigations and suspensions across the nation and NSW even banned the sport although that decision was wound back three months later.

Ramifications were wide-ranging as the code set the industry on a path to restoring faith and trust within the community.

In Queensland, there were a major series of welfare reforms and six years on greyhound racing is capturing fans in record numbers and there is genuine excitement and optimism from most quarters about the code’s future.

“The Queensland greyhound industry has made significant strides in recent years,” Racing Queensland Executive General Manager Operations Adam Wallish said.

“The adoption of the Race Meeting Injury Scheme – along with the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission’s enhanced protocols around the treatment of on-course injuries – have been designed to place animal welfare at the core of our day-to-day activities.

“Put simply, the Race Meeting Injury Scheme has been designed to remove any barriers that may exist for Queensland participants to rehabilitate their greyhounds.

“From a wagering standpoint, annual turnover on Queensland product surpassed $1 billion for the first time in FY20, and we’re on track to eclipse that mark again in FY21.

“The Gold Bullion Final at the start of the month delivered a new Queensland turnover record at $5.1 million for the meeting, highlighting its appeal with punters.

“As part of our commitment to operating more commercially, we have also made significant financial investments in converting a number of our clubs from non-TAB to TAB.”

Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club boss Luke Gatehouse well remembers the “hideous” early days of the fallout from the live-baiting scandal.

Gatehouse said at the time, and he says now, that only a very small percentage of participants were implicated and the overwhelming majority of greyhound people were doing the right thing and they were shocked by the Four Corners expose.

But Gatehouse also knows the industry in the Sunshine State has come a long way since those dark days.

“The live baiting scandal shone a bright light on animal welfare and we have been working really closely with integrity officials and Racing Queensland during the ensuing years to ensure we have the highest possible levels of ongoing animal care,” Gatehouse says.

“We are looking at that on a whole of life basis for greyhounds, not only during their racing career but also in their post-racing career in terms of the retirement of dogs and that they transition successfully from the racing industry to being a pet.

“People are really responding and wagering has been up about 50 per cent.

“Our on-course at Albion Park attendances ballooned just prior to the coronavirus pandemic hitting and just after lockdowns were lifted.

“Greyhound racing was one of the only shows in town during the coronavirus lockdowns and a lot of new eyes went on the sport and a lot of those eyes enjoyed what they saw.

“More people are becoming involved, betting, attending race meetings and wanting to be owners.

“The 18-35 year-olds are our key demographic these days.”

In terms of the future of the greyhound industry in Queensland, a new $40 million complex is being built at Yamanto, a suburb of Ipswich.

Hoped to be up and running in 2024, the facility will comprise a one-turn and two-turn track, as well as a straight track.

“In recent times, RQ has engaged with some of the world’s most authoritative voices in track design and injury prevention to further inform its decision making, providing new and improved ways to deliver safer racing surfaces,” Wallish says.

“The establishment of the Greater Brisbane Greyhound Centre is illustrative of our commitment to strengthening the animal welfare outcomes for the code.

“Among the amenities to be established include the implementation of modern cambers and a world-class racing surface, along with track radius and surface banking to be designed in a way to reduce excessive limb forces.

“We will construct best-practice starting boxes incorporating optimum spacing between contestants, grille heights and starting location alignment and the facility will boast air conditioned, sound-attenuated kennels with best practice pre and post racing support services.

“This is about providing a world-class greyhound facility for our animals and for a code that contributes more than $140 million to the Brisbane and Ipswich economies on an annual basis and supports almost 1100 full-time jobs.”