17 March, 2023

Lord of the greyhounds: Lord David Lipsey runs through what is needed to evolve greyhound racing

Lord David Lipsey, Premier Greyhound Racing Chair, sits down with Gambling Insider inside the House of Lords to discuss how greyhound racing needs to evolve and what he is doing to help the struggling sport regain the attention of large audiences

What is the current landscape for greyhound racing in the UK and what are you currently working on?

There are currently 19 official tracks, along with an unofficial track in Wales, which host various racing events throughout the year. These events are broadcast on televisions in homes or on screens in betting shops. It would be too complex to delve into all the intricacies of the broadcasting, but there is a group called TRP who handles the coverage.As a joint venture, we have established a company that will manage nine of the best tracks of the 19, in addition to five other excellent tracks that will remain independent but will sell us their broadcasted pictures. Essentially, we purchase the rights to use their footage and commentary, and then sell it to betting shops and offer it on our own account. This product is incredibly valuable; we are excited to bring it to market.

How is the sport now and what is the current popularity among bookmakers?

Greyhound racing has been in long-term slow decline, for two reasons. Firstly, the inner-city areas where greyhound stadiums used to exist have become more valuable for housing or other purposes. For example, Wimbledon is now a housing estate and Walthamstow is also going that way. Secondly, the traditional audience for greyhound racing was working-class men who, until the advent of betting shops, could only place bets by going to the stadium as it was illegal otherwise. However, greyhound racing has many advantages from a bookmaker's and punter's point of view, such as a quick-fire rhythm, which makes it very attractive. So, it is still a considerable percentage of the betting shop turnover and there is also increasing online betting on greyhound racing from home.

Regarding the care for greyhounds, when this job was offered to me, one of the things the gentleman said was: “It is your job to keep our feet to the fire over welfare.” Some bits of welfare have been very good but, in general, welfare has been much improved. However, there is still more to be done. I took this job because Premier Greyhound Racing’s primary objective is to improve welfare, making it nice for the dogs, ensuring they are enjoying themselves, and making it a pleasant experience for both people and punters. Therefore, improving welfare is a significant part of the job I’ve been asked to do.

How does the UK market differ compared to other markets worldwide? Is it a leader in greyhound racing in terms ofregulations, perhaps?

There are huge worldwide variations. In the US, for example, greyhound racing has recently been virtually eliminated due to extremely militant animal welfare advocates. In Australia, however, greyhound racing thrives; it looks great. But you're quite right, we'll be launching mostly in the UK. However, the ambition is to have the British greyhound racing product available in every interested country in the world. We haven't set a limit to the size of this business, and we expect it to be big because it has the same advantages in South Africa or Australia as it does in the bookmaker's shop here in the UK; depending on a different time of day when the races are finished. So, there is no limit to the ambition and we hope it will be a nice little earner. From my point of view, welfare is very important. I have no doubt about this. The more money it makes, the more money we should be able to put back into welfare and facilities for customers, and therefore the more money it will make. We're trying to get out of what has been something of a vicious circle into a virtuous circle of growth and prosperity that people will love.

In an ideal world, what would greyhound racing and its relationship to sports betting look like in the future?

I suppose it would be a thriving research ecosystem, where greyhound racing dominates sports betting, but that tends to be focused on particular time periods when there is a big football match, for example. Of course, most of the business in the shop will be on football, but here is a product that's constantly available. We're going to have circa 50 meetings a week, and hopefully 400 races a week on which people can bet at a time and place that suits their convenience - and have a great time doing it. That seems like a perfectly honourable ambition to us.

What other messages and aims do you have as Chair of Premier Greyhound Racing?

I must say when I took it on, they had a much smaller job in mind for me, simply because it was only me to start with and we've had to build up from that. I hugely enjoy my evenings at greyhound racing, such as in Sheffield on Saturday, which was a great night that I haven't seen in greyhound racing for 20 or 30 years. There was a huge crowd, lovely track and wonderful food. So I enjoy that side. But actually, at the age of 74, to be asked for the first time in my life to run a prosperous business is pretty exciting. I won't be doing it at this rate forever. But I've had the most enjoyable year. The final thing to say is I love greyhounds and greyhound people. They're the nicest in the world. They're always very pleased to see you. I haven't had an egg thrown in my face yet, so as long as that continues, I shall go on cheerfully doing the job as long as I want.

You’ve referred to darts quite a lot in terms of the sport you can try to mirror in terms of its resurgence. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?

Greyhound racing could follow in the footsteps of darts, which was down and out. It was hardly ever seen on television and declined in popularity as a sport or pastime. People played darts not for the sport, but for drinking. It was nearly extinct. But they got a grip on themselves and turned the sport around. They got the right television coverage and I see absolutely no reason why we can't do the same with greyhound racing. In terms of being a sports entertainment product, I believe greyhound racing can really follow in the footsteps of darts. I have no doubt about it. So, it's those new audiences that we have to try to cultivate and attract, while at the same time retaining the old audiences that have kept us going for so long.

A demographic like that is something you want to target?

Absolutely yes, but it's not the only demographic. When I was at Sheffield on Saturday night, everybody there, from kids to adults, really loved it. A man of my own age was celebrating his birthday with a party of family - and it was just like a live community occasion.

Greyhound racing is in long-term decline... but still a considerable percentage of betting shop turnover