Dog Racing: Sins from the Past


50 years ago the International Society for the Protection of Animals expressed concern at the treatment of greyhounds racing in Macau.

27 January 1965. In a letter sent to the Portuguese embassy in the UK, Trevor H. Scott, chief administrator of the International Society for the Protection of Animals, requested clarification on the situation in which they found the dogs in the custody of the Macau Canidrome.

The letter referred to an article published days before in the Australian newspaper, The Mirror, about the mistreatment of animals on the racing track of the then Portuguese colony, with a headline as clear as its contents: "Cruelty kills dogs in Macau." The newspaper reported that of the 450 greyhounds imported from Australia two years earlier, 100 were sick and another 50 had been "destroyed" by the Canidrome due to excess racing and the widespread use of doping – sometimes through opium preparations used to blind the animals. According to The Mirror, cases existed where greyhounds refused to run or suffered even collapsing, before or during a race, which gave rise to several protests from a substantial number of gamblers.

In the letter addressed to the Portuguese ambassador in London, Scott asked that, in case he could not deny the allegations, the diplomat should “appreciate the feelings that such reports will arouse among animal lovers both in your own country and throughout the world”, and should be “kind enough to make known the feelings of humanitarians regarding this matter in the hope that these creatures can be spared a vast amount of suffering that such a practice would inevitably entail."

In mid-March, after being processed by the slow bureaucracy of (Portuguese dictator) Salazar’s regime, the letter from the head of the International Society for the Protection of Animals came to the attention of the Governor of Macau, António Lopes dos Santos, who promptly ordered an investigation into the matter. The reply, in a report signed by the delegate of the Government to the Canidrome, administrative overseer Alberto Eduardo da Silva, didn’t take more than a couple of days to arrive; and although it sought to deny the accusations made by the Australian newspaper, it did so only partially.

In fact, despite claiming that the number of races per week and the distances covered in each race were lower than those of "any similar organization in Australia, England or the United States," rejecting therefore the existence of an overload of races, it didn’t fail to recognize that the number of animals was "insufficient", adding that the Canidrome spared no efforts to import more greyhounds.

On the other hand, the document admitted that "some" dogs were slaughtered when they did "not meet the minimum requirements for racing greyhounds" before ensuring that this was the case in "all organizations around the world”. Elaborating on this point, the report stated: "In the special case of Macau – completely dependent on Australia for the import of Greyhounds – there is no possibility of returning the dogs that do not serve racing to their origins due to the enormous costs of transport to Australia." Therefore, the animals were in fact “slaughtered in the most humane way possible", according to the report.

The report also recognized that dozens of greyhounds were sick but put the statistics at "only 56", roughly half the number reported by the Australian newspaper, while ensuring that the average of 15 percent of diseases could be considered "excellent compared to many other similar organizations".

Finally, also in the doping chapter there was ambiguity in the conclusions. The author of the paper stated no evidence of a greyhound having a breakdown before the start of the race, or refusing to run: "It is pure fantasy by the writer!" Similarly, the alleged use of opium to reduce the dogs’ ability to see had never happened "not even as a rumor," he assured.

However, the existence of cases of doping, in itself, was undeniable – and was not even news to the Governor of Macau, as is apparent from the report: "It is knowledge to you, your excellency, that, in fact, some cases of drugged dogs appeared at the beginning of the races in 1963 and 1964. Some of the suspected cases have been given over to the Judiciary Police for investigation." In a final comment, the author of the report offered a personal explanation for what could be behind publication in the Australian press of negative news for the image of dog racing in Macau: "The writer seeks to, we do not know with what intention, defame the organization. Is it because all the Australian trainers left and were replaced by English trainers?”

The 1930s, Same Stigma

Dog racing operated by Macau (Yat Yuen) Canidrome Co. Ltd. – the same company that still operates this activity in Macau today – had in fact begun in 1963 with the support of the Australian industry sector. But even earlier greyhound races had been organized in exactly the same spot, at the edge of Ilha Verde.

A Canidrome with more precarious facilities than the current one, but still with a capacity of 3000 spectators, began to be built in 1932 and was inaugurated on December 26 of that year, being described by the press at the time as "a great improvement for the city." Newspaper Voz de Macau wrote that their kennels were "the most perfect of all Greyhound Racing tracks in the East", where greyhounds were treated "with all the principles of the industry by trained and competent staff."

At the suggestion of Macanese businessman Jack Maria Braga, the concession to operate the racing track was assigned to W. L. Gerrard, a merchant based in Shanghai, where greyhound racing had been introduced in 1928. But even before the Canidrome was inaugurated, the concession was acquired by trespass by a group of Macao investors led by businessman Fan Che Pang. They were, according to local media, a group with enthusiasm for the future and prosperity of Macau who had the merit of placing the then Portuguese colony "on a superior plane, at this point, over all other Portuguese colonies and cities."

A single objection rose at the start of the races: the lack of hotel capacity to receive tourists attracted by the new venture, a complaint made by the Government representative himself, Pereira de Magalhães, at the opening ceremony. Hotel Riviera had a limited number of rooms and the Bela Vista had been closed a few years earlier, inoperable unless major repairs were carried; but the Government had invited companies to a public bidding, and no one joined the process. Besides, for the Portuguese press at the time Hotel Central and all other existing hospitality units were apparently "too Chinese" to receive tourists interested in greyhound racing.

But very soon the lack of rooms was no longer among the main concerns of the club that ran the races. Just over a month after the opening of the Canidrome, the newspaper Echo Macaense denounced irregularities in races’ results, which lead to the mass resignation of the Commissioners responsible for the sports management of the project.

Regarding the treatment of the greyhounds, the newspaper issued an elucidating comment: "In this framework where the heat is intense and exhausting, we consider it violent to simply think in the interest of the company, agreeing to make greyhounds run three nights in a row, and it is absolutely reprehensible that in one night they run two races with the same dogs, as happened last week, in which it repeated the race that was cancelled without reason, because the money bets had already been returned. If there was in this Colony a society for the protection of animals! …”

Canidrome quoted in HK report on organized crime

Persistent poor organization of races, financial results far below expectations, a typhoon with particularly devastating effects and the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War eventually led to the closure of Canidrome in 1938, after a meager six years of operation. When the track was reopened more than 20 years later, on September 28, 1963, the highest-ranking public official present at the ceremony also offered in his speech some criticism directed to the new concessionaire.

This time, the Government representative, Lieutenant Colonel Mota Cerveira, regretted that the program was written only in English and Chinese, as were most of the signs around the premises. "Little appears visible in Portuguese, with the exception of the ‘Exit’ sign, in large letters”, complained the representative of Governor Lopes dos Santos, absent in Portugal.

However, such concerns would again prove negligible compared to the problems that would follow. After accusations of abuse and drug use released by The Mirror, the Macau government invited the president of Greyhounds Breeders, Owners & Trainers Association of New South Wales, Norm Smith, to visit the territory to help the company concessionaire Canidrome improve the operation.

Two years earlier, the same association leader had brought from Australia to Macau 600 greyhounds, dog food, an electric betting totalizer and other equipment, worth some 135,000 pounds sterling. At the end of his visit, Norm Smith only had words of praise for the activity of the Macau (Yat Yuen) Canidrome Co., saying he was amazed at the progress achieved. The race now had an average of 8,000 to 10,000 spectators per session and the concessionaire, who started operations with an investment of 350,000 pounds, recovered the money in just 10 months, and now its shares were at a premium.

But this rare moment to promote a positive image of Canidrome was obscured, still in 1965, following the publication in Hong Kong of a report on organized crime.

The document, drawn up by an independent commission, broached, among other things, the issue of illegal gambling, focusing the study on the effect that dog racing in Macau had on organized crime in Hong Kong. "Information leads us to believe that there are several small syndicates", explained the report. "The organizers take a large share of the net profits, whilst they pay in corruption money almost 10 percent of the total gross takings. The principals have agents or bookies in a lot of private companies and even Government departments. As a lot is done through the post, some post office officials must be suitably bribed."

The report's publication had repercussions in Macau, leading the Macanese Gazette to urge the government to at least prohibit Public Administration workers access to the Canidrome: "Since civil servants have, and rightly so, the doors of the casinos sealed off to them, we see no reason for them twice a week, to find so much freedom in greyhound racing, with many placing such high amounts on a bet that our hair stands on end. (…) Today, unfortunately, it is considered 'chic' for an official to display betting tickets worth hundreds of patacas, boasting of having made a 'great bet', forgetting even their modest salaries could not, in any way, allow them to gamble with such fury. The excuse was always the same; they had won a lot of money yesterday or the week before. But the naked truth is that although there are employees who made a lot of money, we see nothing but debt in the savings bank, whether official or private, fabulous interest rates to loan sharks and many families in misery because all the money is thrown into the Canidrome."

Suspected connections of illegal betting in attack against Ho Yin

On May 7 the following year, 1966, the Canidrome was back in the news for all the wrong reasons: a hand grenade exploded in the parking lot, thrown at the car of Ho Yin – father of the first Chief Executive of Macao SAR Edmund Ho – at the time president of the Commercial Association of Macau and uncontested leader of the Chinese community in the territory. Ho Yin, his wife, and three other ladies who accompanied him, a tourist from Hong Kong and a Canidrome official were only slightly injured by shrapnel from the device. Later, police would conclude that the attack had intended to kill Ho Yin, the attack not having been more severe due to the malfunctioning of the American-made grenade.

The analysis of telegrams exchanged between the governments of Macau and Lisbon in the days that followed the attack, allow us to conclude today that police investigations were conducted around two main theses.

Ho Yin had been one of the local Communist leaders who had put greater pressure on Governor Lopes dos Santos to close down the representation of Taiwan in Macau, although at the time the Portuguese government maintained diplomatic relations with the nationalist regime of Taiwan, and not Beijing. In addition, he was instrumental in the defection to Mainland China, in 1964, of the Nationalist General, Cheang Iat Meng, which occurred from Macau.

The military from Taiwan was the head of the nationalist secret services in the territory and on desertion would have brought with him war materials, as well as reporting to the communist authorities the subversive activities of the Kuomintang in the region. Therefore, agents from Taiwan had probably planned the attack, a thesis that was supported by Ho Yin himself.

But the other argument highlighted the fact that Ho Yin was then also the "most influential partner of the greyhound racing concession," at a time when investors from Shanghai holders of most of the Canidrome shares and simultaneously "owners of big bookie groups in Hong Kong" would have tried to remove him from a position of commanding the company. "Failing doing it by peaceful means", a report addressed by the Macau police to the Director of PIDE (the Portuguese political police) in Lisbon suggested that "the group is said to have ordered the outright suppression of Ho Yin, the only element standing in the way of the Shanghainese dominating the destinies of the Canidrome either in a managerial field or in a financial field."

The same report explained, point-by-point, the premises of the theory under investigation:

"4.1.2 – There are in Hong Kong about 10 large groups of bookies – illegal betting groups – and one of the main ones is Hang Seng Bank that, until recently, had among its directors Ho Tim, brother of Ho Yin.

4.1.3 – In this bank the movement of bookies on days of greyhound racing is in the order of 8 million patacas, thus dominating all other groups.

4.1.4 – There appears to be, or have been, an understanding between the bank referred to in 4.1.2 and the Canidrome regarding the drugging of dogs.

4.1.5 – If confirmed the previous hypothesis Ho Yin, indirectly through his brother or another person in his trust, strongly bet in the other groups, weakening them to the point of bankruptcy.

4.1.6 – The group (from Shanghai) referred to in 4.1 is not part of Hang Seng Bank, but has connections with other groups of bookies and is aware that Ho Yin indirectly bet in these groups.

This thesis was given great credibility by Governor Lopes dos Santos, as suggested from the information sent next to Lisbon: "There is all likelihood that the suspicions I mentioned relating to illegal betting of greyhounds will soon materialize. Elements of our police are in neighbouring Hong Kong working in cooperation with the police of that city, who are also interested in unmasking criminals since the center of clandestine betting is in their city. It seems it’s related to a whistleblower, who will receive 50,000 patacas that our police are offering to the complainant with my permission, given the importance for local life and the future that this attack could have."

However, a few days later, in a telegram dated May 24, 1966, Lopes dos Santos informed the Portuguese Overseas Minister, Joaquim Silva Cunha, that "unfortunately the hopes placed by the local PSP" on the lead of illegal bets on greyhound racing were not confirmed.

Investigations also focused on the hypothesis that Ho Yin was the victim of extortion by triad criminals, or simply that the attack could be linked to an alleged case of "adultery in the Chinese wealthy class," according to Macau police.

But, just as the authorities feared, the police investigation was met with huge difficulties, as the masterminds of the attack would no be from Macau and the executors of the plan, though with links to the territory, would have been gone by then. As a result, the investigations – further hampered a few months later with the impact in Macau of the Cultural Revolution – never produced conclusive results, and the crime remained unsolved.

However, although nothing has been proved, the Canidrome never got rid of the suspicion that accompanied it from the very beginning: infiltration of organized crime, race results fixing, drug abuse and animal cruelty. And that will most likely be the case until the day the government of Macau finally decides to shut it down.





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