The American Greyhound Track Owners Association is holding their national convention this week in Las Vegas. The event is expected to draw a mere 120 people, making it the lowest attendance in history. The lack of participants is a significant sign that greyhound racing is coming to an end, but you’ll be surprised why racetracks are closing.
Just fifteen years ago, the national convention drew more than 400 participants and the industry was active. Now more than half of the tracks in the U.S. have closed, four of them last year. Could it be a victory for the hard work animal welfare groups have done in gaining public support to stop the cruel sport? Or are they closing because people have found a bigger and better way to gamble?
While animal organizations can definitely take credit for some of the decline, the Las Vegas Sun says racetracks are shutting down because of lack of business. According to the U.S. Association of Racing Commissioners, betting on dog races has declined from $3.5 billion in 1991 to $1.1 billion in 2007.
Racetrack owners are putting the blame on the expansion of Las Vegas style casinos in many parts of the country and statewide lotteries. Fred Fulchino, owner of Regall Sports Kennel said, “People want instant gratification. They want to put in three dollars, pull a lever and win $10,000.”
The industry has turned so sour that even casinos like Harrah’s Entertainment are working with lawmakers to ban greyhound racing. Jan Jones, senior vice president of communications and government relations for Harrah’s, told The Las Vegas Sun that her company is losing so much money, they are now trying to convince Iowa legislators to outlaw dog racing.
In several states like Iowa, casinos are only legalized when they are located on the site of a greyhound or horse racetrack. And casino companies are required to split a portion of the income from slot machines with racetrack owners and breeders. This has cost them millions of dollars. According to a study by Harrah’s Entertainment, ‘greyhound owners and kennels competing in Iowa have received $140 million in casino revenue since 1995.’
On the other hand, breeders and racetrack owners aren’t ready to see the industry completely banned and their casino income halted. Instead they want to give up live racing and offer simulcast races. This would allow gamblers to bet on races in other areas such as Florida where the industry hasn’t been hit as badly.
Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA isn’t entirely satisfied with this plan, but he is surprised by the turn of events. His non-profit greyhound advocacy organization works to outlaw dog racing and has successfully stopped it in Massachusetts. Lately Theil has been hearing from track owners and companies like Harrah’s.
One of the reason’s Harrah’s wants to talk to Grey2K USA is because the company isn’t entirely comfortable with the practice of racing animals that many people consider pets. Jones said, “We’re not sure this is a business we want to be in.”
Theil said, “It’s so odd to be agreeing with people who have spent millions fighting you after so many years. It’s like Alice in Wonderland.”
Time will tell if greyhound racing will finally come to an end. Roy Berger, executive vice president of Dairyland Greyhound Park in Wisconsin, which closed last year, said: “The product became an antique. We were an 8-track cassette store in a world of CDs.” Maybe it’s time to close up shop.
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