Lawmakers Look To Crack Down On Drug Use In Racing Animals

Mar 4, 2015

Credit Rainer Hungershausen

Florida is among just a handful of states that continue to allow greyhound racing – the issue has come under scrutiny lately with lawmakers proposing greater oversight But some argue the state’s animal racing industry as a whole needs a closer look.

The industry is the subject of several bills this session including one from Rep. Dana Young(R-Tampa). Young says when it comes to drugs trainers can give their racing animals, Florida has some of the least restrictive rules.

“Florida is far behind the times in this area,” Young says.

Young is filing a comprehensive gaming bill that includes a provision intended to create stricter rules for medications and drugs used in racing animals. Meanwhile, Repr. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Meyers) is sponsoring a standalone bill aimed at accomplishing the same purpose. The measure increases the fine a person faces for giving a racing animal an illegal substance.

“Because the situation now is the penalties are so low that it’s a cost of business if people give the animals the improper drugs that they can still win the purse and be penalized by a very small amount,” Fitzenhagen says.

The bill would also update testing protocol for labs and reduces the amount of time in which the Department of Business and Professional Regulation must launch an investigation. But some, like Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) are raising concerns about the bill’s expedited investigation rule.

“With the advent of designer drugs and the fact that I’m hearing the community that the illegal chemists are really outpacing the prosecution in terms of keeping up, are we harming the ability to prosecute by shortening the period,” Rouson asks.

Fitzenhagen points out the bill only requires that an investigation be initiated within a certain period of time, but does put any rules in place for how quickly the investigation much be finished. Other lawmakers like Sen. Dwight Dudley (D-St. Petersburg) raised concerns about who would take the blame for an animal that is found to have drugs in its system.

“As far as due process, is there no likelihood of a scenario where someone could drug somebody’s horse to make them loose the race or sabotage them,” Dudley asks.

But Marc Dunbar an industry lobbyist and attorney says it’s standard in most states for trainers to take responsibility for their horses.

“The best mechanism to police the industry is the absolute insurer rule. Therefore the trainer or the trainer’s representative would maintain eyes on the animal at all times to keep that from happening,” Dunbar says.

The measure passed out of the House Business and Professions Subcommittee. Next it heads to the Governmental Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Meanwhile, a similar bill is moving through the Senate.