(News-Press.com) - The controversial and long-discussed measure that would allow greyhound tracks to cut down the number of races was pulled at the last minute Tuesday after several Senate Gaming Committee members asked for a full staff analysis.
The committee did support a greyhound injury bill that would require the state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to maintain records of all greyhound racing injuries at Florida's 13 dog tracks.
The measure — SB 742 — needs to be approved by the full Senate, House and Gov. Rick Scott before it becomes law. The Legislature approved a greyhound death reporting law last year. Despite Sen. Maria Sachs' decision to pull her amendment, Bonita Springs track officials remained optimistic a decoupling amendment will be added to the greyhound injury reporting bill when it reaches the Senate and House floors.
The Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing and Poker Room leads the nation in a category it wants no part of: annual number of greyhound races. The Bonita Springs facility sends dogs around its track 3,500 times a year.
With greyhound betting spiraling downward and poker room proceeds rising, Bonita dog track owners want to significantly decrease its number of state-mandated dog races to focus on its more popular poker room. On Tuesday, track officials traveled to Tallahassee with other greyhound activists to try to convince a Senate committee to approve the bill that would allow them to cut the number of races.
"The track in Naples-Fort Myers is the poster child why decoupling is necessary," said Ron Book of the Naples-Fort Myers Kennel Club. "We're required to run 4,000 races each year in order to keep our license active. It's not necessary. We will never stop racing in Fort Myers. We will never stop. We will have a limited card. But it's not right to require a number of races. The law has seen its time pass."
The Bonita Springs track runs the most greyhound races in the nation because it had the most successful greyhound track in 1996 when the Legislature linked poker rooms licenses to a minimum number of greyhound races. Izzy Havenick, whose family owns the Bonita Springs track and the Magic City Casino in Miami, said the Bonita track would significantly reduce its number of dog races.
"We will continue to put on a great product to the person searching for (greyhound racing) entertainment in Bonita Springs," Havenick said. "With decoupling, everybody can make money and not just have us losing money."
The Bonita Springs track is losing more than $2 million a year on dog races as fewer and fewer customers bet on the sport, according to a recent state study on gambling by New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming. The facility's dog racing woes mirror what's happening across the state as Florida's 13 greyhound tracks are losing a combined $35 million a year on dog races. Most pari-mutuels rely on their poker rooms to stay afloat, the report said.
Greyhound owners are against decoupling. Greyhound owner Jim Blanchard, who runs dogs in Bonita Springs, said the sport has supported his family for decades.
"Eliminating dog racing doesn't benefit anybody on the racing side," Blanchard said. "It benefits only one person and that's the race tracks."
Florida is one of only seven states that still allows greyhound racing, a one time popular pastime that most states have turned into an outlawed practice. Of the 21 dog tracks still operating in the U.S. more than half are located in the Sunshine State.
Carey Theil — the executive director for Grey2K USA, a nonprofit group focused on ending greyhound racing — hopes decoupling will be brought up again.
Theil believes there's enough support in both chambers to pass the greyhound injury reporting bill. He said the bill in conjunction with last year's greyhound death reporting bill will help the 8,000 dogs racing in Florida. Seventy-four greyhounds died after Florida races from May to December, according to state records. Two dogs died after Bonita races.
Injury reporting laws in other states have been effective, Theil said. Massachusetts, for instance, approved a greyhound injury reporting law in 2001 and in the first year the number of dogs euthanized declined by 43 percent. Massachusetts voters outlawed dog racing in 2008.
"Florida has to be one of the leaders in the way we treat our animals," Sachs said. "The way we treat our animals is the way we are as a civilization. If a greyhound dog dies every three days at Florida race tracks that are paid for by Florida taxpayers, we have a problem. We hope this black mark on mandated dog races is something we can address as a committee and as a Legislature."