Greyhound Decoupling Bill Dies, but Injury Reporting Is Step Closer to Getting Passed

The drive to get greyhound decoupling in Florida was on the cusp of being passed Tuesday when it met with an abrupt and swift death in the Florida Senate, thanks to a procedural vote.

A rules challenge by Sen. Jack Latvala effectively killed the decoupling bill, even though the bill had the votes. The decoupling amendment was ruled out of order, even though it was poised to pass on a 12-6 vote.

"This means that greyhound decoupling is very likely dead for this session," Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA -- a nonprofit group crusading to put an end to greyhound racing -- said on Tuesday.

The good news for greyhounds, however, is that the Senate Appropriations Committee is considering SB 742, which would require the reporting of greyhound injuries.

See also: Seventy-four Greyhounds Died in Florida During Second Half of 2013

This means that the days of racetracks keeping their dogs in poor conditions and not having them treated should injury or sickness arise is a thing of the past.

Until Tuesday, Florida remained one of only two states that does not require injury reporting from its racetracks.

In February, James E. O'Donnell, the man who runs greyhounds at Mardi Gras Racetrack in Hallandale Beach, was arrested for forging a dead veterinarian's signature to try to fool the state into making it look like his dogs had been properly vaccinated.

So now that the decoupling fight is over for this session, Grey2K and other animal rights advocates are turning their whole attention on getting the injury reporting bill pushed through in the last two weeks of the legislative session.

While decoupling wouldn't have ended greyhound racing or made it illegal, it would've given casinos the option not to have greyhound racing.

As it stands, Florida is one of only seven states that still have greyhound racing. The real issue is that casinos are basically forced to have greyhound racing thanks to an antiquated Florida law that says gambling is allowed only at facilities that offer racing. So tracks keep greyhound racing so they can offer lucrative slots and poker, even though they lose money on dog racing. Decoupling would allow gambling without the dog races.

Because keeping things humane for the greyhounds costs money, mixed with the fact that greyhound racing isn't as lucrative as it once was, the state lost a little more than $3 million on greyhound racing alone last year, according to a study by Spectrum Gaming Group.

"We had the votes," Theil tells New Times. "But we were challenged on point of order, and the amendment was ruled out of order without vote. So decoupling, at least politically, is dead for this session."

A decoupling measure could still be revisited during a special session later this year if the Seminoles and Gov. Rick Scott agree with a compact extension.

The compact is a legal agreement between the state and the tribe that would have the tribe give Florida about $234 million a year in revenue in exchange for the exclusive rights to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

A compact extension might give decoupling another foot in the door for this year, but Theil admits it's likely something that will have to be taken up again next year.

"Next year, we'll have more incentive to clear these things up," Theil says. "The issue is not going away. Dog tracks are going to lose more money; more greyhounds are going to die. This issue is going to be exacerbated as time passes. And, as we saw, we clearly had the votes."

For the moment, Theil says he and his group are spending the final days of the session on getting the injury report amendment pushed through.

"SB 742 passed by a wide, 12-4 margin," he says. "Greyhound injury reporting is very important, and we must now shift our focus to passing that reform in the final two weeks. Greyhound decoupling will come back, and I am confident that it will eventually become law."

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph