Greyhound board on track to manage dog racing in China

 

THE IRISH Greyhound Board is to seek permission from the Government to set up a separate international arm that could manage dog tracks in China.

This is part of an ambitious strategy to generate an alternative stream of income that could support the industry in Ireland, which is feeling the pinch in the recession.

Chief executive Adrian Neilan has told The Irish Times that a potential €15 million investment in the project has been discussed with a consortium in London.

Mr Neilan is developing a proposal that would involve an offshoot of the State body developing about five dog tracks in China. These would be operated on 25-year contracts and discussions have already been held with Chinese authorities.

Much as it does at Irish tracks, the board would control racing, catering, any betting, media and sponsorship rights.

“This is a live contender,” Mr Neilan said. “We are very well set up to leverage what we do as a model in the Chinese market.”

Earlier this week, the board dropped plans to export greyhounds to China after protests from animal welfare groups about the fate of the animals once they had been retired from racing.

The board initially offered to repatriate the greyhounds but the proposal was then dropped. However, Mr Neilan is keen to press ahead with the plan to run greyhound stadiums in China and will submit a new proposal to the Department of Agriculture in the coming weeks.

“We have no doubt that this is an entertainment product that will travel,” Mr Neilan said.

He estimated that each of the tracks could generate an operating surplus of €1 million a year, which the greyhound board could tap to support the industry here.

The board made a surplus in Ireland last year of €2.7 million but its finances have been under pressure in the recession.

This year it will receive €11.4 million from the Horse Greyhound Fund, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture. This compares with €15.8 million in 2008.

In addition, attendances at race meetings have almost halved over the past six years, falling to 800,000 last year.

Tote betting, which is run by the board, last year amounted to €24.5 million, just under half the peak figure of €51.3 million recorded in 2005.

There is one significant hurdle to be cleared by the greyhound board – betting in China is currently banned, with the exception of Macau.

Illegal gambling is rife in China and Mr Neilan said that “plans are afoot” by the state to regularise this situation.

“It’s a new market that is unfolding,” he added. “There are a lot of opportunities there.”