Modern greyhound racing has its origins in coursing. The first recorded attempt at racing greyhounds on a straight track was made beside the Welsh Harp reservoir, Hendon, England, in 1876, but this experiment did not develop. The industry emerged in its recognizable modern form, featuring circular or oval tracks, with the invention of the mechanical or artificial hare, in 1912, by an American, Owen Patrick Smith. O.P. Smith had altruistic aims for the industry to stop the killing of the jack rabbits and see "greyhound racing as we see horse racing". In 1919, Smith opened the first professional dog-racing track with stands in Emeryville, California. The certificates system led the way to parimutuel betting, as quarry and on-course gambling, in the United States during the 1930s.
The oval track and mechanical hare were introduced to Britain, in 1926, by another American, Charles Munn, in association with Major Lyne-Dixson, a Canadian, who was a key figure in coursing. Finding other supporters proved to rather difficult however and with the General Strike of 1926 looming, the two men scoured the country in an attempt to find others who would join them. Eventually they met Brigadier-General Critchley, who in turn introduced them to Sir William Gentle. Between them they raised £22,000 and like the American 'International Greyhound Racing Association' (or the I.G.R.A.), they launched the Greyhound Racing Association holding the first British meeting at Manchester's Belle Vue Stadium. The industry was successful in cities and towns throughout the U.K. - by the end of 1927, there were forty tracks operating.
The industry of greyhound racing was particularly attractive to predominantly male working-class audiences, for whom the urban locations of the tracks and the evening times of the meetings were accessible, and to patrons and owners from various social backgrounds. Betting has always been a key ingredient of greyhound racing, both through on-course bookmakers and the totalisator, first introduced in 1930. Like horse racing, it is popular to bet on the greyhound races as a form of parimutuel gambling.
Greyhound racing enjoyed its highest UK attendances just after the Second World War— for example, there were 34 million paying spectators in 1946. The industry experienced a decline from the early 1960s- after the 1960 UK Betting and Gaming Act permitted off-course cash betting. Sponsorship, limited television coverage, and the later abolition of on-course betting tax have partially offset this decline.
Commercial greyhound racing is characterized by several criteria, including legalized gambling, the existence of a regulatory structure, the physical presence of racetracks, whether the host state or subdivision shares in any gambling proceeds, fees charged by host locations, the use of professional racing kennels, the number of dogs participating in races, the existence of an official racing code, and membership in a greyhound racing federation or trade association.
In addition to the eight countries where commercial greyhound racing exists, in at least twenty-one countries dog racing occurs but has not reached a commercial stage.
In 2016, a bill was passed through the government of the state New South Wales, in Australia to ban greyhound racing. This new law was to come into effect in the middle of 2017 but was reversed in late 2016, albeit with several new restrictions on the industry (see below under Australia).
Greyhound adoption groups frequently report that the dogs from the tracks have tooth problems, the cause of which is debated. The groups often also find that the dogs carry tick-borne diseases and parasites due to the lack of proper preventative treatments. The dogs require regular vaccination to minimize outbreaks of diseases such as kennel cough.
Recently, doping has also emerged as a problem in greyhound racing. The racing industry is actively working to prevent the spread of this practice; attempts are being made to recover urine samples from all greyhounds in a race, not just the winners. Greyhounds from which samples cannot be obtained for a certain number of consecutive races are subject to being ruled off the track. Violators are subject to criminal penalties and loss of their racing licenses by state gaming commissions and a permanent ban from the National Greyhound Association. The trainer of the greyhound is at all times the "absolute insurer" of the condition of the animal. The trainer is responsible for any positive test regardless of how the banned substance has entered the greyhound's system.
Generally, a greyhound's career will end between the ages of four and six – after the dog can no longer race, or possibly when it is no longer competitive. The best dogs are kept for breeding, and there are both industry-associated adoption groups and rescue groups that work to obtain retired racing greyhounds and place them as pets. In the United Kingdom, according to the BBC, one in four retired greyhounds finds a home as a pet. In the United States, prior to the formation of adoption groups, over 20,000 retired greyhounds a year were killed; recent estimates still number in the thousands, with the industry claiming that about 90% of National Greyhound Association-registered animals either being adopted, or returned for breeding purposes (according to the industry numbers upwards of 2000 dogs are still euthanized annually in the US while anti-racing groups estimating the figure at closer to 12,000.) Other greyhounds are sold to research labs, such as Liverpool university animal training school, who have received the remains of dogs killed at Manchester's Belle Vue stadium. A trainer in Lincolnshire was also exposed offering 'slow' dogs to the Liverpool school. Additionally dogs are sent to foreign racetracks such as Spain and sometimes in developing countries. In the North East of England a man is believed to have destroyed as many as 10,000 healthy greyhounds with a captive bolt gun.
Several organizations, such as British Greyhounds Retired Database, Greyhound Rescue West of England, Birmingham Greyhound Protection, GAGAH, Adopt-a-Greyhound and Greyhound Pets of America, and the Retired Greyhound Trust try to ensure that as many of the dogs as possible are adopted. Some of these groups also advocate better treatment of the dogs while at the track and/or the end of racing for profit. In recent years the racing industry has made significant progress in establishing programs for the adoption of retired racers. In addition to actively cooperating with private adoption groups throughout the country, many race tracks have established their own adoption programs at various tracks.
Greyhound racing has been a source of controversy since the 1980s. A number of animal welfare organizations are critical of the greyhound racing industry, alleging that industry standard practices are cruel and inhumane, and that the industry violates animal welfare laws and conceals evidence of wrongdoing.
There has also been criticism of commercial racing internationally, particularly regarding the overbreeding of dogs, concealment of injury figures and high euthanasia rates. An independent 2014 review of the Irish Greyhound Board criticized the body's corporate governance, its handling of animal welfare issues, and poor financial performance.
The humane community has utilized the legislative process to end dog racing and improve the conditions for racing greyhounds. For example, in March 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a measure that prohibited commercial greyhound racing in Colorado, making it the 39th state to outlaw the activity.
In Australia, Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) Chief Executive Brent Hogan said in 2013 that an estimated 3,000 greyhounds are euthanized each year in that state alone.
In February 2015, a report by television program Four Corners discovered the use of 'live bait' to train dogs for racing in Australia. This is illegal in many countries, including the UK and Australia, and against the rules and regulations of the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Australian former High Court judge Michael McHugh conducted a Special Commission of Inquiry for the Australian state of New South Wales. The review evaluated the breeding and wastage practices, the use of coursing and live baiting by some trainers, and the reporting rate of deaths of dogs at race tracks. The review concluded that there was widespread cover-ups and deception of the public. Some key findings in the report included: a high death rate, where at least 48,891 uncompetitive greyhounds were killed over the past twelve years, and the under reporting of greyhound deaths and injuries despite a recent undercover exposé. The report also found up to twenty percent of trainers engaged in illegal live baiting practices, and that for the industry to remain viable, 2,000 to 4,000 greyhounds would still be killed each year. New South Wales premier Mike Baird announced that all greyhound racing would be banned in the state from 1 July 2017.
On November 17, 2016, the Congress banned greyhound racing. The law was promulgated on December 2, 2016 as the National Law 27,330. Anyone who organizes, promotes, facilitates or carries out a dog race, regardless of breed, will be jailed between 3 months and 4 years and with a fine from $4,000 pesos to $80,000 pesos.
The Australian Greyhound Racing Association (AGRA) is divided into many state governing bodies, which regulate greyhound welfare and living conditions. Some racing authorities in Australia, partly finance some of the Greyhound Adoption Groups, which house dozens of greyhounds a month.
Each Australian state and territory has a governing greyhound racing body. Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) and Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) are the two largest authorities, governing over 40 racetracks. The Queensland Greyhound Racing Authority (QGRA), Western Australian Greyhound Racing Authority (WAGRA), Tasmanian Greyhound Racing Authority (TGRA), Greyhound Racing South Australia (GRSA), Northern Territory Racing Authority, and the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club (CGRC), all contribute to running and monitoring of greyhound racing in Australia.
Major greyhound racing venues include Wentworth Park in Sydney, Cannington Raceway in Perth, Greyhound Park in Adelaide, Albion Park in Brisbane and Sandown Greyhounds in Melbourne.
Many adoption programs have been set up throughout Australia known as Greyhound Adoption Program or Greyhounds As Pets, GAP. They generally work with their Greyhound Racing Administration. Greyhounds are checked for parasites, malnourishment, or any other medical conditions by an on-course vet before being able to compete.
Greyhounds are usually bought and sold as puppies just after having been whelped or as racing dogs that have been fully trained via word of mouth on the track or via the few greyhound trading and sales platforms. In Australia the buying and selling of greyhounds is controlled and regulated by the states and territories.
A 2015 television investigation revealed widespread use of small live animals as bait, to train greyhounds to chase and kill. As a result, many in the industry called for a complete overhaul of greyhound racing's controlling bodies in Australia.
On 5 May 2015 former Justice of the High Court Michael McHugh was appointed to head the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW.
On 7 July 2016, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird announced that greyhound racing was to be banned in the state from 1 July 2017 after the inquiry found overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass greyhound killings and live baiting. After the NSW announcement, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Andrew Barr stated that greyhound racing would be banned in the ACT.
In response a rally was held in Sydney, and legal action taken in the Supreme Court of NSW. After running newspaper advertisements supporting the ban, the NSW Government was criticised by Brenton Scott, the chief executive of the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association. Luke Foley, NSW Labor leader, led his party's opposition to the ban. In August 2016 legislation was introduced into the NSW Legislative Assembly and three National MPs crossed the floor to vote against the government; with one Liberal MP abstaining from the vote. On 24 August the legislation passed the lower house.
On 11 October 2016 the NSW ban was reversed, with several conditions.
Greyhound racing is a popular industry in Ireland with the majority of tracks falling under the control of the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) which is a commercial semi-state body and reports to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The vast majority of greyhounds racing in UK are imported from Irish breeders (estimated 90%). In the greyhound industry Northern Irish tracks are considered to be in the category of Irish greyhound racing and the results are published by the IGB. They do not come under the control of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.
In New Zealand, around 700 dogs are bred each year for racing (Take average from "Greyhounds Named" table), and around 200-300 are imported from Australia. Over 200 are retired annually by a charity established and partially funded by the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association. Few greyhounds are kept as pets or rehomed by their trainers after racing while a small percentage are rehomed by other volunteer greyhound rescue organizations throughout the country. Occasionally greyhounds are even returned to overseas owners. There is some concern over the welfare of New Zealand racing greyhounds by a growing animal advocacy lobby that has led the racing industry to initiate its own internal inquiry into their outcomes, injuries and welfare.
In South Africa dogs are kept with their owners. Due to the amateur state of racing, owners are usually also the trainer and rearer of the dogs; it is very rare that a dog is kenneled with a trainer.
Racing is controlled by a partnership between the United Greyhound Racing and Breeders Society (UGRABS) and the South African Renhond Unie (SARU - South African Racing Dog Union). The studbook is kept by the South African Studbook and organization who keep studbooks for all stud animals. Racing takes place on both oval and straight tracks. Racing is illegal in South Africa.
Greyhound racing is a popular industry in Great Britain with attendances at around 3.2 million at over 5,750 meetings in 2007. There are 26 registered stadiums in Britain, and a parimutuel betting tote system with on-course and off-course betting available, with a turnover of £75,100,000.
On 24 July 1926, in front of 1,700 spectators, the first greyhound race took place at Belle Vue Stadium where seven greyhounds raced round an oval circuit to catch an electric artificial hare. This marked the first ever modern greyhound race in Great Britain.
Greyhound racing in Great Britain is regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB). Greyhounds are not kept at the tracks, and are instead housed in the kennels of trainers and transported to the tracks to race. Those who race on the independent circuit (known as 'flapping'), do not have this regulation.
There have been 143 regulated tracks (126 in England, 12 in Scotland and 5 in Wales) and 256 known independent tracks since 1926.
Some of the more prominent stadiums that have closed where greyhound racing has been staged in the past are as follows: White City Greyhounds at White City Stadium, Walthamstow Stadium, Wembley Greyhounds at Wembley Stadium, Harringay Stadium, West Ham Stadium, Powderhall Stadium and Cardiff Arms Park.
Greyhound racing as a whole in the UK has been in decline since the opening of betting shops in 1961 and despite a mini boom in the late 1980s there are only 25 licensed tracks left in Britain with Wimbledon Stadium due to close in March 2017.
In the United States, greyhound racing is governed by state law. Industry attempts at self-regulation have been criticized by humane organizations. There are strict industry imposed enforcement system, in conjunction with state and local laws.
At American tracks greyhounds are kept in kennel compounds, in crates that are approximately three feet wide, four feet deep, and three feet high. Most kennels turn the dogs out 4 to 6 times per day. Each turnout can be from 30 to 90 minutes. Because greyhound kennels often house upwards of 50-70 dogs, crating is essential to the safety and wellbeing of canine life. Greyhounds are cared for by professional and licensed staff.
In addition to state law and regulations, most tracks adopt their own rules, policies and procedures. In exchange for the right to race their greyhounds at the track, kennel owners must sign contracts in which they agree to abide by all track rules, including those pertaining to animal welfare. If kennel owners violate these contract clauses, they stand to lose their track privileges and even their racing licenses. In order to be licensed to own, handle a race dog or work in a kennel, dog professionals must have a FBI background check and be licensed by the states. Additionally, the National Greyhound Association holds their membership to strict standards towards the care and handling of the athletes. Failure to comply can result in lifetime termination of membership and a ban from the sport.
In recent years, several state governments in the United States have passed legislation to improve the treatment of racing dogs in their jurisdiction. During the 1990s, seven states banned gambling on live greyhound racing. In November 2008, Massachusetts held a vote to ban greyhound racing, which passed 56% to 44%. Currently, 40 states and the territory of Guam have standing laws banning the practice, and 5 more states, Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin, do not practise greyhound racing despite the practice not being illegal there.
In late 2016, Texas plans to re-introduce greyhound racing. In addition to Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, and West Virginia have active racing industries. Fifteen states without live racing allow simulcast betting on greyhound races in other states.
Between 2001 and 2011, the total amount gambled on greyhound racing nationwide declined by 67%.
In Florida, where 12 of the operational dog tracks in the US remain, the financial decline is even more significant. In the state, the amount gambled at dog tracks declined by 72% between 1990 and 2013. According to a study commissioned by the legislature, the state lost between $1 million and $3.3 million on greyhound racing in 2012. As recently as 2016, Florida industry professionals are starting to question if wagering is seeing a decline or just transitioning to unreported online formats Birmingham Race Course, Birmingham, Alabama
Mobile Greyhound Park, Theodore, Alabama
Southland Park Gaming and Racing, West Memphis, Arkansas
Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room, Daytona Beach, Florida
Derby Lane Greyhound Track, St. Petersburg, Florida
Ebro Greyhound Park and Poker Room, Ebro, Florida
Flagler Greyhound Track & Magic City Casino, Miami, Florida
Mardi Gras Casino, Hallandale Beach, Florida
Melbourne Greyhound Park & Club 52 Poker, Melbourne, Florida
Naples-Fort Myers Track and Entertainment Center, Bonita Springs, Florida
Orange Park Kennel Club, Orange Park, Florida
Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, Florida
Pensacola Greyhound Track, Pensacola, Florida
Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, Longwood, Florida
Sarasota Kennel Club, Sarasota, Florida
Horseshoe Council Bluffs, Council Bluffs, Iowa
Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, Nitro, West Virginia
Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, Wheeling, West Virginia