Greyhound Decoupling Bill Hits Snag but Is Not Dead Yet

The measure that could lead the way to virtually ending greyhound racing in Florida hit an abrupt snag earlier this week, putting a damper on some serious momentum gained by proponents in the past several months.

While state senators approved a bill on Tuesday that would require racetracks to report greyhound injuries, Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) was hoping to add a decoupling measure to help put a stop to the often cruel sport of greyhound racing.

But everything seemed to unravel on Tuesday when infighting between members of the Senate Gaming Committee derailed Sach's efforts. One senator at the meeting described it as a "meltdown."

Sachs was forced to withdraw the measure at the last minute, halting a process that seemed to be shifting toward animal-rights advocates who were hoping for a decoupling law.

Still, proponents remain optimistic, even in the face of this latest setback.

See also: Bills to End Greyhound Racing Moving Forward Through State Legislature

While decoupling won't end greyhound racing or make it illegal, it will give 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.

The momentum for decoupling had been swelling in recent months until it hit the wall Tuesday.

"Decoupling seems like a simple idea, but when but when you start drafting a bill, it gets complicated and technical," Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA -- a nonprofit group crusading to put an end to greyhound racing -- tells New Times. "There are all these laws, and one racetrack is different from another racetrack, and when you draft these measures, there will be unintended consequences."

The unintended consequence that threw a monkey wrench into the decoupling momentum on Tuesday seems to be language in SB 742 about simulcasting of races. The law says a track can simulcast only if there is live racing. The language in the bill was intended to say that a track can simulcast without a live race.

The problem: Some in the industry used this to argue that simulcast betting is not profitable. This was the catalyst for the infighting at the meeting, which put the entire bill in jeopardy. So instead of having a vote that would have surely killed the decoupling measure, Sachs pulled it and will head back to the proverbial drawing board with the other decoupling advocates.

"There's always going to be industry lobbyists and lawyers who find different interpretations to the laws and legislation," Theil says. "And that's part of the process. We understand that. We went from having the votes to the vote being in question. As a result, the amendment was withdrawn."

Despite the snag, Theil says decoupling has neither been voted down nor defeated.

He points to the new law requiring tracks to report greyhound injuries as a main reason for optimism. "It's historic," he says.

"I'm more optimistic today than ever because there's very clear support," Theil added.

And there's also this: Greyhound racing just isn't the big moneymaker it once was.

Because keeping things humane for the greyhounds costs money, and the fact that fewer people are betting on dog racing, the state lost a little more than $3 million on greyhound racing alone last year, according to a study by Spectrum Gaming Group.

Still, as it is with anything that's been around a long time, change will be challenging.

The snag Sachs hit on Tuesday only shows how delicate the decoupling issue is, with its many competing interests and moving parts.

But pulling the measure was the smart thing to do. And now, Theil says, the plan is to tighten up the wording in the measure and reintroduce it in the next couple of weeks.

Decoupling advocates have until May 3 to get the measure drafted, which doesn't leave a lot of room for error. But Theil says their optimism hasn't waned.

"We're very optimistic," he says. "The injury report law is a step forward, and we think we have tremendous support from both chambers."

Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph. Follow Chris Joseph on Twitter

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph