SARASOTA, Fla. -- For three generations, James Abernathy's family has run a greyhound kennel, providing dogs to race tracks, but over the last few decades. He's seen a decrease in interest in the sport
"Attendance has dropped dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years," said Abernathy. "That's just because there's just more forms of gambling for the track to offer."
Greyhound racing has decreased by 82 percent since its peak in 1991. Now stands which used to be packed, are mostly empty, and some track owners say they're losing money on the sport.
That's because much of the action at the track isn't the racing, it's the poker rooms. According to state law, facilities that have poker rooms are required to run a certain number of races per season. Opponents say that state law is actually perpetuating a sport that would otherwise disappear.
"In order to be poker rooms, they're running dogs around a little circle, but nobody's out there betting nobody's out there watching. they're there for the poker," said Kelly Driscoll of animal rights group Grey 2K.
But Abernathy says the empty stands are misleading and much of the betting on racing takes place online. He says the tracks shouldn't be allowed to get rid of the sport.
"I think the tracks should stay open, because that's what their license says as a greyhound racing facility and that's how they've stayed in business for 70 years," said Abernathy. "I think it's wrong of them to all of the sudden say 'we got slot machines we don't need you anymore because you're not part of the entertainment.'
Instead, the Florida Greyhound Association says its wants to keep the sport alive, but while addressing the issue at the center of many protests, the health and safety of the dogs.
"Greyhounds are animal athletes just like football players, just like basketball players," said Jack Cory of FGA. "We need to have the safest conditions for all of our athletes, whether they be football players, basketball players, or greyhounds running around a track."
The sport has been criticized by opponents who say the dogs are kept in small cages with little human contact. Abernathy says that's not the case but when ABC7 asked to see the kennels, he said the track wouldn't allow it.
Opponents also say racing is hard on a dog's body causing injury and often death. State records show that a dog dies from racing related injuries on average every 3 days in the state of Florida. In response, FGA is proposing a three-pronged approach to safety that includes improving track surfaces, providing a guard that goes on the lure, and insulating the live electric wire, as well as reporting of injuries.
"It's unbelievable in this day and age that we dont have track safety rules on a statewide level," said Cory. "It would be like the Tampa Bay Bucs and the NFL not having any requirements for the field."
Carey Theil of Grey 2k has pushed for a separate bill that just supports injury reporting. He says he also fully supports FGA's bill but says the association has done little to move it forward.
He argues the bill intentionally asks for too much, allowing the association to appear in favor of injury reporting knowing it likely won't be passed.
"It's a public relations ploy so they have something to point to that they know cannot pass the legislature while opposing the things that actually can pass.
In response, Cory said, "The only reason they want to report injuries and not stop them is so that they can do away with live greyhound racing and that's a phony issue. They need to come on board. Let's protect the animals today and let's report if there's any injuries so we can protect them even better in the future."
We reached out to Florida representative Jared Moskowitz, the lead Democrat in the House on gambling issues. He called the bill a "ploy" that "will never pass the legislature."
Guest Opinion: Expansion of Gambling a Bad Bet for Florida
September 18, 2018
HOT OFF THE PRESSES!!! FLORIDA DECOUPLING FAILS AGAIN