Neil Parish: Racing greyhounds are animals, not assets – we must act to ensure their protection
Greyhound racing is a multi-billion-pound industry. A statutory levy would make sure online bookmakers pay their fair share towards animal welfare, writes Neil Parish
In 2016, as chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I led an inquiry into greyhound welfare. We found a lack of data, weak regulation, insufficient inspection regimes and poor welfare rife in the greyhound racing industry. We recommended improvement in each of these areas. But funding, as always, continues to hold the key to lasting improvement.
It has long been my view that bookmakers profiting from greyhound racing have a responsibility to support greyhound welfare, whether they trade from the high street or online. Few would disagree. Greyhounds bred for racing are essentially seen as commercial betting assets. But this gentle, athletic breed feels pain and needs love like any other dog.
When you consider £2.5bn is staked annually on live greyhound racing in the UK, it is shocking to see the welfare condition of some of these animals. Whether it is damaged limbs, dental problems or poor-standard kennels, we can and must do more.
Currently, a significant amount of welfare funding is made voluntarily, at 0.6% of bookmakers’ turnover. It cannot be right, though, that greyhound welfare is at the whim of bookies who may choose to contribute or not. The voluntary system allows them to walk away from responsibility if the industry tries to increase the levy. A well-publicised example occurred in 2013 when Betfair, a major online betting exchange, decided to stop making contributions.
'The voluntary system allows bookmakers to walk away from responsibility'
Indeed, naming and shaming companies is all part of ensuring we get better welfare standards for greyhounds. I was glad, therefore, when Sky Betting and Gaming, William Hill, Betfred as well as the newly-merged Paddy Power Betfair, committed to meet the 0.6% target in January this year, raising £3m. It follows the positive contributions of Ladbrokes Coral, Bet365 and JenningsBet who have previously made commitments on the same basis.
Yet this merely reverses a decade-long trend of drastically declining income from the voluntary levy paid by bookmakers. The voluntary revenue stream continues to be threatened by the growth of online and overseas betting operations, which do not tend to make the voluntary contribution.
In my view, a strong welfare system requires commensurate long-term financing. Take horse racing as an example. Last year alone, their 10% statutory levy generated almost £100m to support infrastructure improvements, a reduction in injuries, better data and higher prize money.
A statutory levy on greyhound racing, based on just 1% of gross turnover, would generate £11.6m for greyhound welfare. A levy at 1.5% would generate £17.5m. Immediately, this money would provide a more stable income stream for animal welfare activities, such as improving kennelling standards, paying for veterinary bills and rehoming. It would also create an even playing field between contributing bookmakers.
The purpose of the statutory levy would make sure online bookmakers pay their fair share – in exactly the same way betting shops do – towards the welfare of racing greyhounds. The levy should not be voluntary.
As the sixth most-watched sport in Britain, the welfare and care of all racing greyhounds, from registration to retirement, must be a fundamental part of its successful future. Last year, 4,963 injuries were sustained by dogs within the greyhound racing industry and almost 1,000 died. This is only a fraction of total greyhound participation, but it still must change.
In my parliamentary debate this week, I am calling for a gambling levy to protect greyhound welfare and protect the industry. Ministers, not bookmakers, should hold the whip-hand here. After Brexit, the government should come forward with new legislation introducing a statutory levy to equalise contributions and protect the welfare of racing greyhounds once and for all.
Neil Parish is Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton. His Westminster Hall debate will take place on Tuesday 25 June.