Dog gone? Senate committee ready to let dog tracks stop dog racing
The Senate Regulated Industries Comittee voted 7-5 Wednesday to remove one of the last vestiges of Florida's parimutuel tradition: allowing the 16 greyhound tracks in Florida to keep their card games and slot machines without having to operate live dog races.
The bill, SB 1594 by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would remove the 15-year-old live racing requirement in the face of declining popularity and revenues of dog racing. Sachs said that between 2002 and 2010, the amount gambled on live dog racing declined 57 percent, purses for live racing dropped 69 percent and taxes and fees collected by the estate decreased 96 percent.
"The market has dictated already that this may be a dying industry but I don't think it's dead,'' she said. "I do believe there should be some dog racing where the people want it and it should be dictated by the people and not by government."
Sachs said the requirement for live racing is unevenly applied because it set the floor at the live racing schedule at each track, based on the year before they started offering card games. The result, she said, is that some tracks have to run dogs longer and harder than other tracks to keep their card games operating.
"I want the pool to shrink. I want them to breed fewer dogs and that will lead to higher quality racing,'' she said.
But dog breeders, trainers and handlers derided the measure as the demise of their industry.
"It's going to knock us out of business,'' said James O'Donnell, 82 a greyhound owner in Miami who has been racing dogs all around the state for 55 years. He disputed allegations that dogs are run too hard and said that the industry polices itself.
Jack Cory, lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, warned that "3,000 Florida families that would lose their small businesses or their jobs if this bill passes,'' and complained that the animal rights movement had misinformed the committee about the treatment of dogs.