ST. PETERSBURG — Today's $10,000 Matinee Idol is Derby Lane's only afternoon stakes of the year. But how long will the iconic greyhound track have the only game in town?
The tussle in Tallahassee is on again, a turbulent time that threatens greyhound racing in Florida. Two bills written in the Florida Legislature, prohibiting a minimum requirement of live performances for greyhound permit holders, would give tracks control of racing dates.
If passed, dog racing in the state could end July 1. House Bill 641, authored by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Senate Bill 382, introduced by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would allow tracks to offer poker and simulcast wagering without dog racing. Similar bills last year failed.
Derby Lane is one of 13 state tracks with live dog racing, teaming with Tampa Greyhound Track for eight weekly performances year-round.
"We need to run every day to make a living," Tampa Bay Greyhound Association president Cal Holland said. "If (Derby Lane) runs only two or three cards, that would put half of us or more out of business."
The Florida Greyhound Association reports the state's dog-racing industry is responsible for more than 3,000 jobs and $5 million in state income with an economic impact of $50 million.
"(The end of racing) would be a disaster," said Maryann Tolliver, president of Greyhound Pets of America, Tampa Bay Chapter. "We adopt out 180 to 200 dogs per year. If all of a sudden we have 1,000 dogs (Derby Lane's kennel population), we wouldn't have any place to put them, and (you know) where the dogs would go."
Tolliver said each potential adoptee costs approximately $500. A nonprofit group, GPA relies on donations and fundraisers. A perfect storm means GPA would need $500,000 to handle Derby Lane's dogs. And with more than 13,000 dogs estimated in Florida, the overall expense in the state would be $6.5 million.
"If times are changing and greyhounds and horses are to become a sport of the past, the cost of this transition is way above $130 million," said kennel owner Malcolm McAllister, whose Tiger Boy is favored to win the Matinee Idol (Race 8, 2:30 p.m.). "Should then, the state of Florida pick up the tab?"
Kennel manager-trainer Catherine D'Arcy said dogs would be the real losers.
"I turn them out six times a day; exercise them on the sprint path; they swim and race," she said. "Pets in this country don't get walked six times a day."
Track spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said the facility expects to remain status quo.
"If they decouple (the dog racing requirement), Derby Lane plans on doing business as usual," she said. "We are a greyhound racing facility, first and foremost, since 1925. We do plan on continuing the greyhound racing schedule we have."