Another session of the Florida Legislature has come and gone, and once again despite a lot of promises, nothing was done to increase the protection for greyhounds while racing at tracks across the state. This is especially disappointing to those of us who spend every day of our lives with these incredible canines.
The Florida Greyhound Association, a group of racing dog owners and trainers, takes serious the need to protect these majestic animals while allowing them to do what they do best – run. Despite greyhound deaths declining 54 percent during the first quarter of 2015, we must do everything we can to better protect them. According to state data, an overwhelming majority of those deaths occur at the track. During the 2015 legislative session, we put forward significant changes that would better protect greyhounds when they are racing. They were simple solutions like ensuring a safe track surface, putting a guard rail on the device the dogs chase, and insulating live electrical wiring that could injure or kill the dog. Shockingly, these simple changes were ignored. Track owners didn't want to make the relatively cheap investment, and so-called animal protection groups like Grey2K are more interested in raising money off dog deaths and injuries than supporting needed reforms.
Despite inaction by the Legislature, we call on each and every greyhound track in Florida to voluntarily make these needed safety enhancements. If they truly care about the dogs, the decision is an easy one to make.
Unfortunately, we know what the likely answer will be. Track owners are guided by the bottom line rather than protecting the dogs. Since greyhound racing began in Florida, track owners have made billions of dollars and contributed millions in tax revenue to the state. Greyhound racing still generates revenue on behalf of Florida's taxpayers. This past year, the tracks sent $11 million of collected taxes to the state's coffers. However, because of special interests lobbying $8 million was returned to the pockets of track owners. It's a classic case of the rich getting richer.
Most track owners have lost their interest in maintaining greyhound racing and have a serious case of casino envy. Given their way, they would end greyhound racing in Florida and convert their facilities into full-fledged casinos – all without voter approval. For the past several years, they've tried to convince the Legislature to "decouple" greyhound racing from the poker rooms and, in some cases, slot machine parlors at their pari-mutuel facilities spread throughout Florida. These facilities were created, with voter approval, to host greyhound racing. That was always intended to be their primary function. Twenty years ago, the track owners convinced the Legislature to allow them to offer poker rooms to increase their revenues. A few years later, the facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties were given the right to add slot machines. Now they want casinos.
T'he greyhound owners and trainers in Florida are proud of the industry we've developed over eight decades. Without exception, we are 3,000 Floridians running small businesses from Pensacola to Miami and everywhere in between. We care for and love the dogs we own and train. We're proud that 95 percent of these greyhounds are adopted into loving homes when they retire from racing.
That's why it disappoints us when we see lots of tough talk about protecting the dogs, but no action. As an industry, we're prepared to work with the Legislature in ensuring safer track conditions for greyhounds while providing quality entertainment for Floridians. The only thing missing is a willing partner.
David Bishop represents the Florida Greyhound Association.