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Dems seek to sever ties between Grayhound racing and gambling

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Two South Florida lawmakers are making a second attempt to change the greyhound racing industry in Florida. James Call reports they want to lift a mandate requiring tracks to offer live racing in order to qualify for poker rooms and other forms of gambling.

As a rallying cry it doesn’t have the impact of no justice no peace but it captures what Delray Beach Senator Maria Sachs wants to do:

“Decouple these dogs, Decouple these dogs.”

To have a poker room where players gamble on card games, Florida law requires pari-mutuel to conduct a minimum number of races a year. Sachs and Tampa Representative Dana Young says the requirement is obsolete, costly and is not in the best interest of the dogs or the pari-mutuel industry. Maintaining a stable of racing animals and a track is expensive. And Young says there is not enough interest in greyhound racing to support the mandate.

“The minimum amount of racing is 800 races at a track. 800. Down in Naples they have 400 races performances of 8 races each. So 3200 live dog races.  You know when you start thinking of the fact that you have these animals running around a track day in and day out in the heat of the day that many times and you don’t have people watching. It doesn’t make sense and it is not what the state of Florida should be mandating right now.”

Florida has allowed gambling on greyhound races since 1931. But it appears people’s interest in gambling has moved on to other activities.  The amount wagered on races has dropped from $620 million to 300 million in 10 years. Sachs explains this may lead to negative consequences for the dogs.

“Look these greyhounds are commercial entities, when they produce money they are treated differently. When they are not producing money I am sure they are not treated as well as when they were pulling in a lot of money.”

The proposal is supported by animal rights activists like the ASPCA. Linda Norman is with the Humane Society of Marion County. She compares greyhounds to athletes but says currently many races attract no spectators. They are conducted just to satisfy the requirements for a poker room permit.

“There are numerous injuries that happen on the track. I mean these dogs, it is not uncommon to have broken legs, in fact its’ very common. It’s not uncommon to have heart attacks. I mean these dogs are pushed to their physical limit.”

Sachs and Young ask to what purpose are the dogs being pushed to their physical limit. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation says taxes and fees paid to the state by Florida’s 13 dog tracks dropped 96 percent between 2002 and 2010. And Sachs notes the tracks, as an industry receive more than $4 million a year in tax credits. Sachs thinks the money can be used better elsewhere.

“Number one, 140 new teachers. Well-funded new teachers in Florida. Number two,  annual tuition for 835 students at Florida universities. If we could put this money into things we need such as education, it would prevent 108 teachers from being fired. A hundred additional police officers a year, 95 firefighters a year, and of course 75 additional nurses. “

The bill would allow a track to simulcast a dog race from another facility in the state. The sponsors say this would actually reduce the number of live races in Florida and therefore is not an expansion of gaming.  Similar proposals passed the House and Senate last year but negotiations to reconcile the bills broke down on the session’s final day.