A law currently moving through the Florida Legislature could result in a drastic reduction of greyhound racing in the state. Greyhound advocates think that would be wonderful. But leaders in the greyhound racing industry say it would cost thousands of people their jobs.
"There are 4,000 people in the state who depend on greyhound racing for their livelihood," says David Bishop, spokesperson for the Florida Greyhound Association.
Despite the fact that profits from greyhound racing have waned in recent years, Florida remains one of seven states that still allow the practice, with some 8,000 dogs running at 12 tracks, including Hallandale's Mardi Gras Casino and the Palm Beach Kennel Club. In fact, in order for tracks to operate slot machines and betting games — which are lucrative — Florida law dictates that the tracks must continue to run races. That law was put in place years ago to protect greyhound industry workers, but now, animal activists say, dog racing is just a front so tracks can operate casinos.
Animal-rights activists for years have been fighting to "decouple" gambling and racing, which would give tracks the option to keep racing or discontinue it. In past years, bills have passed through multiple legislative committees but died before becoming law. But this year, Florida is working to renew a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. If the compact is renewed, the state could receive $3 billion. Because the state is trying to regulate various aspects of gambling together all at one time, decoupling could pass this year as part of the bigger deal.
"Clearly, we do not support decoupling," Bishop told New Times. "This will bring an end to greyhound racing in Florida."
Yesterday, the bill containing the decoupling language passed through a committee in the state House. Meanwhile, however, the Senate has elected to delay its version of the bill for at least a week to discuss a series of amendments State Sen. Joe Negron has proposed.
Carey Theil, head of the greyhound organization Grey 2K USA, predicted that if decoupling passes, three to five tracks will close completely and more than 3,000 racing greyhounds could retire and be put up for adoption.
But the Greyhound Association paints a more dire picture. Bishop claims the bill will end greyhound racing entirely and put human beings out of work.
"Decoupling would result in the elimination of 4,000 jobs," Bishop says. He claims the bill will decimate the racing
Making a larger point, Bishop claims most dog tracks have "moved on" from racing. "They don’t want the hassle of greyhound racing," he says. "They've been given gambling licenses, given poker, given slots, but the requirement was that they continue greyhound racing. If the rules change now, after they’ve gotten poker and slot machines, that's a bit disingenuous."
In the past, Theil has disputed a number of the association's claims, saying that "the vast majority of employees at Florida dog tracks are unrelated to live racing but instead support simulcasting and card rooms."
When reached by phone, a spokesperson for the Palm Beach Kennel Club told New Times the track has no plans to discontinue racing. The club runs more than 5,000 races each year.
"We run pretty much year-round," said the spokesperson, Theresa Hume. "We feel like we’re successful at it. We have no plans to change that. Currently."