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Maintaining the strength and integrity of starting prices for greyhound racing in Great Britain

29 July 2014

In early 2014 the Gambling Commission (the Commission) received reports from a number of licensed operators regarding suspicious betting activity on two greyhound races that took place at Sittingbourne Greyhound Stadium towards the end of December 2013.

Suspicion was based on the unusually high volume of forecast/tricast multiple bets on the Sittingbourne races, across a number of retail premises in Great Britain with similar or identical stakes and selections. Questions were raised about a potential connection between the off-course bets and the make-up and strength of the on-course market for the races in question due to the apparent drift in prices and returned starting prices (SP) of the successful selections for the above bets, providing the largest two forecast dividends on the 12 race card. (Further detail on the starting price system in greyhound racing is set out in the notes to editors below.)

The Commission’s investigation brought to light a range of compliance failures on the part of a number of individuals involved in setting the SP at the track, and resulted in enforcement action, including the imposition of financial penalties and licence conditions. In one case the operating licence was surrendered where the Commission’s findings indicated it would otherwise have been revoked. One operator received a warning and other operators received formal advice to conduct. Further details of the sanctions imposed by the Commission can be found on our sanctions register. The Commission encourages all on-course bookmakers to take the opportunity to review their own business practices to ensure they are not also at risk of regulatory action.

The Greyhound Board for Great Britain (GBGB) conducted a rigorous investigation into the races. The Board’s conclusion, in which we have confidence, is that the races themselves were not manipulated.

However, while the Commission is not pursuing criminal offences against any individual, there remains a degree of concern about the integrity of the markets on the races, a matter over which GBGB has no control.

Furthermore, it has become apparent from our investigation that the system for setting the SP may be inherently fragile and vulnerable to the risk of manipulation. While the Commission accepts that at many tracks that vulnerability is likely to be mitigated by the competence of those operating the system, and the effectiveness of the policies and procedures they have put in place, where those may be lacking, as was the case with some of the operators connected with the relevant Sittingbourne races, manipulation must be considered a realistic possibility.

There is a significant public interest in the long term sustainability of greyhound racing both as a sport and entertainment enjoyed by many people and as a betting product. Such sustainability is likely to depend on maintaining public confidence.

In that light, the Commission welcomes the commitment made by the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Services (BAGS), with the support of the Greyhound Board for Great Britain, to reinforce, as a matter of urgency, the contractual obligations and controls that underpin the integrity of the current system. Whether or not more fundamental reform is required in the longer term will be a matter for the betting industry.

Note to editors

  1. The Gambling Commission (the Commission) regulates gambling in the public interest alongside its co-regulators local licensing authorities. It does so by keeping crime out of gambling, by ensuring that gambling is conducted fairly and openly, and by protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling. Subject to these overriding public protection objectives, as regulator of the National Lottery the Commission monitors and challenges Camelot to raise the maximum amount for good causes. The Commission also provides independent advice to government on gambling in Britain.
  2. The Commission and local licensing authorities are responsible for licensing and regulating all gambling in Great Britain other than spread betting, which is the responsibility of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) (opens in new tab).
  3. See the Terms & Conditions section of our website for information on legal advice (opens in new tab).
  4. The starting price system for greyhound racing: The betting market at greyhound stadia is the source of the starting price via which a large proportion of off-course bets are settled. For this reason, these on-course betting markets have significance beyond the confines of the track. The starting price system for greyhound racing is a long established method of providing prices for the off-course market and is largely self-regulating. Whilst the Commission recognises the present arrangements provide many thousands of unquestioned returned prices each year across a number of stadia, the circumstances and speculation surrounding the recent Sittingbourne races indicate an inherent fragility associated with the current system. The strength of the on-course market measured by monies wagered has continued to fall in recent years with the Commission’s industry statistics showing a circa 41% decline in on-course greyhound betting turnover from 2009-2013. How far this trend is tolerated by the industry before steps are taken to explore improvements to the pricing system remains primarily a question for those involved in providing greyhound racing and the accompanying betting markets. However given the Commission’s statutory duty to promote the licensing objective that gambling should be conducted in a fair and open way, anything which legitimately serves to undermine public confidence in the conduct of commercial gambling is a cause for concern. The Commission has therefore spoken to a number of individuals and industry parties involved directly or indirectly with the sport to explore what controls are in place to mitigate the risk of any adverse manipulation of starting prices.

For all media enquiries, please contact the Gambling Commission press office.

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