Legal quirk lets struggling Florida greyhound tracks boost income with other types of gambling
Young, along with some colleagues, has tried repeatedly in the years since to move legislation. The decoupling bills haven’t been successful yet, including a proposed measure last year.
Legislative attempts to require the reporting of greyhound injuries haven’t been successful, either. (However, in response to public pressure, one Florida county recently passed such a measure.) A bill that would have prohibited the use of steroids in greyhounds also failed in the 2017 legislative session.
But an administrative rule adopted in 2013 requires tracks to report all greyhound deaths. Because of the rule, we know that “415 dogs have died at Florida racetracks since May 2013, the month and year when the tracks finally had to begin disclosing this information to the public,” Dorchak says.
This figure, which indicates about one death every three to four days, she says, helps bolster calls to move toward greyhound racing’s end either by outright ban or by allowing the industry to shrink of its own accord through decoupling.
INDUSTRY FIGHTS BACK
Jeff Kottkamp, a former Florida lieutenant governor who lobbies for the greyhound industry, is vigorously fighting against ending the racing. He has succeeded so far. He says the animal welfare concerns are overblown, and that the coupling is necessary to protect greyhound owners and those whose jobs depend on the dogs still running.
“That’s putting our folks out of business, and we can’t just let that happen,” Kottkamp says.
But with no legislative changes, at least one greyhound racetrack could disappear this year.
Last summer, state regulators approved an application for the Magic City Casino in Miami to get rid of its racetrack and put a jai alai court in its place while keeping its slots. Attorney John Lockwood tied the casino’s application to a 1980 state law that allowed some gambling facilities to make this switch. Although this was the first time regulators have allowed a so-called pari-mutuel facility to switch from greyhound or horse racing to jai alai, according to an article from the Miami Herald.
Lockwood says jai alai won’t be more profitable than greyhound racing. The court takes up less space, which will let the casino use the freed-up property for what he calls “its highest and best use,” perhaps an entertainment center.
Kottkamp, representing the greyhound industry, has filed an appeal. Lockwood hopes it will not be successful. On top of his client’s economic concerns, as a dog lover he says he is also moved by the animals.
“They’re telling us we have to run dogs around a racetrack. Why are they making us do this? It’s horrible,” Lockwood says.
In October, Republican Sen. Tom Lee filed a constitutional amendment to ban dog racing altogether in Florida. The proposed amendment will have to be approved by Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission before voters see it on the ballot this year.
Sen. Young also plans to try again with new bills to protect greyhounds in the next legislative session, which begins this month. “It just takes time and steadfastness,” she says. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Dorchak of Grey2K sounds less reserved in her optimism. “Even as we work to pass laws to improve conditions for the gentle greyhounds exploited by this cruel, unpopular and outdated industry, the day grows closer and closer for dog racing to be outlawed nationwide as well as worldwide,” she says. “The question now is not if greyhound racing will end, but how soon?”
This article was published in the January 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title "Racing for Profits: Legal quirk allows struggling greyhound tracks to boost income with other types of gambling."