Derby Lane has to figure out what’s next now that voters have approved greyhound racing ban

Published November 7 2018
Updated November 8 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Derby Lane opened in 1925, and it could stay in business beyond 2020, when a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters this week bans the races.

But it won’t be the same business.

The greyhounds will be gone. The poker rooms will still be there, as will the simulcasts of jai alai, horse and dog racing. Derby Lane has about 120 acres that could support some other type of development. And there’s always the possibility the track could branch out in a new direction.

But on Wednesday, the day after Florida voters approved the ban 69 percent to 31 percent, Derby Lane’s president said it’s far too soon to say whether any new development could take place, how the track might change its business model or how many of his 500 employees will remain.

"There aren’t any real immediate changes yet," Derby Lane president and chairman of the board Richard Winning said. "We’ve had some thoughts," he but had to wait to see whether the amendment would pass before taking the discussions further.

"We’re going to work with our employees and work with our kennels," said Winning, the great-grandson of Derby Lane’s founder. "We’ve got a couple of years."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: For Derby Lane and Richard Winning, it’s all in the family

For now, greyhound racing will continue through 2020, Winning said, and the poker room and the simulcasts will go on. Derby Lane’s handle — or the total amount wagered on racing — has dropped from more than $80 million in 2006 to a little under $21 million. Meanwhile, its gross receipts from its card room amount to just over $9 million.

The idea of developing Derby Lane’s property south of Gandy Boulevard isn’t new. A few years ago, its size and location fueled speculation that it could be a site for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. But that hasn’t been the only idea.

"We’ve had plenty of offers," Winning said, "and they’ve all been told the same thing: we don’t know what we’re going to do yet."

As the ban approaches, the track will look at moving some employees into new roles. And Winning said Derby Plan plans to work with kennels as racing is phased out.

But passage of Amendment 3, which requires voter approval for future expansions of casino gambling, will prevent Derby Lane and other tracks from adding slot machines, sports betting or any other elements of casino gambling without a statewide referendum.

That, however, didn’t keep people from calling and texting Winning on Wednesday to ask when Derby Lane would be adding slot machines.

"I don’t think people understood what Amendment 3 was," he said. "They think they voted for slots."

Meanwhile, supporters of the greyhound racing ban welcomed its passage.

"Because of the decisions of millions of Florida voters, thousands of dogs will be spared the pain and suffering that is inherent in the greyhound racing industry," Humane Society of the United States acting president and CEO Kitty Block said in a statement Wednesday.

Greyhound owners and trainers say these allegations of abuse are false, that their dogs are athletes that are treated well so they can run well.

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A spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association said putting a dozen proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot at the same time allowed out-of-state political action committees to spend millions of dollars on "trickeration and lying to the people of Florida."

"We will now proceed to legislative and, if necessary, judicial remedies to be sure our members are properly compensated for the taking of the value of their property," association spokesman Jack Cory said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

"We’ve been down this path before," said attorney and former lieutenant governor Jeff Kottkamp, who represents the greyhound association.

In 2002, voters approved a ban on keeping pregnant pigs in crates. Three years later, the Legislature allocated $600,000 to compensate two farmers whose livelihoods were hurt by the ban.

Kottkamp and former appellate judge Paul Hawkes predicted before the vote that passing Amendment 13 would lead to thousands of claims seeking damages from the state for lost business caused by the ban.

This time, though, Kottkamp and Hawkes estimated that the total amount of damages could range from $250 million up to $500 million.

"We’re in that same position" as with the pregnant pig amendment, Kottkamp said, "only on a far grander scale."

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

 
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