TALLAHASSEE | The partnership between greyhound racing and other types of gambling in Florida has run its course, two state representatives said Thursday.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said it is time for the Legislature to sign off on “decoupling” and allow kennel clubs, like the one in Orange Park, to decide whether to continue racing dogs.
“This is about businesses being able to make a decision for themselves,” Moskowitz said. “Florida, for all the talk about free enterprise, for all the talk about liberty, for all the talk about not having government in the way of over-regulating, Florida actually mandates that a business runs its business like it’s 1997.”
Gaetz and Moskowitz were adamant that they aren’t pushing to end greyhound racing all together, but they believe the state should not tell tracks how much racing they have to do. Right now, pari-mutuel facilities that want other types of gambling, like poker rooms, must have a minimum amount of racing. (Casinos that operated under a contract the state has with the Seminole Indians have different rules.)
Racing greyhounds doesn’t bring in the money to these facilities like it used to, and venues are hoping to change the law to eliminate those requirements.
Both lawmakers also argued that recent reports about greyhound deaths and injuries make the case that it is an outdated sport that does more harm than good. Collectively, 13 racing tracks in Florida reported 192 deaths between June 2013 and December 2014.
Orange Park Kennel Club had the second highest number of deaths at 23 during that period.
Jack Cory, a lobbyist representing greyhound breeders and dog trainers, isn’t buying the safety argument. He blames kennel club owners, who he says are using animal rights as a red herring to allow them to break promises made years ago when they first received permission to open poker rooms.
“It would be the end of greyhound racing and the beginning of the expansion of 13 casinos,” Cory, who represents the Florida Greyhound Association, said.
Cory said the state regulates dog tracks and most greyhounds don’t run more than twice a week. He said the “decoupling” issue is simply about whether the Legislature will allow dog tracks to convert to casinos without nearby residents’ approval via referendum, as other types of gambling expansion have required.
“All of them want to become casinos; they want to do away with pari-mutuels and they want to become casinos,” Cory said. “But that’s not what the people of Florida voted for.”
Cory said 3,000 people would lose their jobs and 8,000 greyhounds currently on the racing circuit likely would be put up for adoption if decoupling is approved by lawmakers.
So far, no legislation has been filed that would decouple racing from other types of gambling or allow kennel clubs to run fewer races and still operate their card rooms or slot machines. Gaetz, who chairs the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee, said he would oppose any gambling legislation being passed in his committee that did not include decoupling.
Moskowitz sponsored legislation in 2014 that would have reduced the number of races necessary to allow a pari-mutuel facility to offer other types of gambling, but it didn’t gain any traction.