Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

House committee approves bill to phase out dog racing

TALLAHASSEE — The calm in the lobbyist-packed committee room belied the intensity of the behind-the-scenes battle under way to end the House of Representatives' resistance to gambling expansion.

Before the Finance and Tax Committee met, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli added a legislator to help pass the bill that opens the door to slot machines in Palm Beach and Lee counties, destination resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward, and the phasing out of greyhound racing across the state.

As the vote looked close, lobbyists quietly met in the corner of the meeting room with Rep. Hazelle Rogers, attempting to get the Lauderhill Democrat to end her opposition to the bill.

In the end, a last-minute switch by Republican Rep. John Tobia of Melbourne Beach to support the bill, and a decision by Rep. Frank Artiles to miss the vote, brought HB 1233 to victory.

The vote was 10-8 in favor of what could be the most expansive rewrite of Florida's gaming laws in a decade, since voters authorized slot machines.

It opens the door to expanding slots at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and the Flagler Race Track in Naples, if agreed to by the Seminole Tribe in a legislatively approved compact. It requires injury reporting for dog tracks that continue to race. And it requires Miami-Dade and Broward to conduct a non-binding referendum or a vote of the county commission before the Legislature can approve destination resort casinos.

It was a dramatic turn for a chamber where gaming bills have gone to die in recent years. The bill is next expected to go to the full House but faces steep hurdles in the Senate, which is awaiting a vote on its version of gambling expansion — a plan that would also extend the compact with the Seminole Tribe for one year.

Most important for the author of the House bill, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, is the provision that "decouples" the requirement that greyhound tracks continue to operate a minimum number of races in order to offer the more lucrative poker rooms or slots casinos. The bill also includes a requirement that requires tracks to report all dog injuries.

"On behalf of the thousands of racing greyhounds that are bred and live their lives to do nothing but run around a circle with no one watching, vote for this bill," Young told her colleagues.

There are only 20 active dog tracks left in the United States and Florida is home to 12 of them. The industry runs about 4,000 races a year and state records show that a dog dies every three days because of racing-related injuries.

But by removing the racing mandate from greyhound tracks but not offering a similar benefit to horse tracks, the measure drew opposition from other racinos in South Florida.

"This is a very special interest bill,'' said Donn Mitchell, chief administrative officer for the Isle of Capri, which owns Pompano Park Race Course and Casino. "Don't legislatively pick winners and losers,'' Mitchell said.

Rogers tried and failed to pass an amendment to the bill that would have removed the requirement for horse track and jai alai operations to continue live racing and games and operate their slots permits alone.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee said Tuesday that he expects little progress on any gaming legislation this session until the Seminole compact is re-negotiated.

"Absent an agreement to extend the compact, I don't see Senate taking up any of these bills piecemeal," he said.

But Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, said the biggest change in the House bill was the effort to phase out dog racing.

"This is a battle of morals and for me the moral is that I don't think the government indirectly and unintentionally should mandate animal cruelty because that's what's happening," he said.

Animal activists who want to end dog racing aren't taking any chances. Starting Tuesday, Grey2K USA launched an aggressive email and phoning campaign urging their supports to appeal to lawmakers to pass the bill. 

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

House committee approves bill to phase out dog racing 04/21/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 9:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]