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Greyhound Races Face Extinction As Casinos Owners Join With Animal Activists

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Not many people attend the races here at Bluffs Run Greyhound Park anymore. Aside from a few dozen aging diehards cheering the dogs from the shabby grandstand, the gambling-inclined prefer to take their chances amid the bright lights and constant action of the casino downstairs.

But even though the races are losing millions of dollars each year, the owners are required to keep the greyhounds running six days a week.

After a decade in which more than half the greyhound tracks in the country have closed, many of the remaining operations have survived thanks to the model used at Bluffs Run. Over the years, the tracks, which were there first, won permission from states to add slot machines and poker tables under the condition that a chunk of the profits go to the dog races — essentially subsidizing one form of gambling with another.

Now, after years defending greyhound racing against attacks that it is inhumane, a growing number of track owners are, to the astonishment of opponents and the dismay of fans, joining the critics among the animal rights groups. Complaining that they are being forced to spend millions of dollars a year to subsidize a pastime that the public has all but abandoned, greyhound track owners in Iowa, Florida and Arizona have been lobbying for changes in the law that would allow them to cut the number of races, or even shut down their tracks, while keeping their far more lucrative gambling operations.

Though the legislative outcome is in doubt in the short term, the effort has intensified the concern that the end may be near for a century-old pastime.

“There is no reason to continue spending money on a dying sport,” said Bo Guidry, general manager at the Horseshoe Council Bluffs casino complex, which includes Bluffs Run. Caesars Entertainment, which owns the operation and was required to spend $10 million last year on dog racing, has offered to pay the state $49 million for the right to close the track.

The reversal is regarded as a betrayal by those who earn their paychecks — or lose them — at the greyhound tracks. Though many of the racing supporters acknowledge that the sport cannot survive financially on its own, they argue that operations like Bluffs Run should not be allowed to abandon dog racing for greater profits after using it as justification to expand into other forms of gambling.

“The racing end was used as a ticket to help them acquire those licenses,” said Gary Guccione, secretary-treasurer of the National Greyhound Association, which is based in Kansas, where the last track closed two years ago. “And now they’re trying to push racing out.”

For the animal rights groups opposed to racing, the unexpected alliance with track owners has broadened the case from a moral argument about the treatment of the dogs — which spend much of their lives in confinement, can suffer debilitating injuries while racing and are put up for adoption at the end of their careers — to a business-focused argument against government mandates.

“We’ve been fighting the racetrack owners for years, and to suddenly have them as allies takes some getting used to,” said Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, a nonprofit group focused on ending greyhound racing.

There are now 22 tracks in 7 states, down from 49 tracks in 15 states a decade ago, according to Grey2K. Some tracks have gone out of business, others were shut down through legislation, and most of the survivors rely on other gambling revenue.

In Florida, home to more than half of the remaining tracks, owners had expected legislation to pass this year that would allow them to cut back dog racing while keeping other gambling operations. A similar measure stalled last year despite bipartisan support, and it once again appears to have died in the Legislature.

Isadore Havenick is lobbying for that legislation on behalf of his family-owned company in Florida, which has run racetracks in the state for six decades. He said the races were losing millions of dollars. “The only time there’s a large crowd of people watching dogs is when people get up from the poker tables to smoke,” he said.

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that the decline in interest in dog racing appeared to be more intense than what had happened with horse racing. “All live racing is declining in popularity,” he said. “It’s just not as impulse-oriented, as convenience-oriented as most gambling is today.”

Bluffs Run opened in 1986. But it has seen a steady drop in wagers on live races since the beginning, from $122 million that first year to $4.6 million in 2010, according to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Built for 6,500 visitors — the crowds were so big on opening day that many were turned away — only about 70 regulars showed up at Bluffs Run one day last week. Most knew one another by name. They placed a total of $11,125 in bets on live races, a fraction of the $3,090,179 wagered that day at the casino downstairs.

Even though the track is home to the most lucrative greyhound race in the nation, the Iowa Breeders Classic, with a $500,000 purse, twice as much money is bet on simulcast horse races as is bet on the live dog races. So when the local cable operator stopped broadcasting races and the local newspaper stopped running results, there was little surprise.

But to those in the grandstand, where the stained carpet and old furnishings testify to the greyhounds’ second-rate status at the gambling complex, dog racing has a special charm. It rewards careful study, fosters community and consumes money slowly.

Anger crept into their voices as they talked about Caesars Entertainment. They noted that casino gambling was legalized here explicitly to subsidize the dog racing. And they said the company was undermining its own product.

Bob Hardison, a breeder who is president of the Iowa Greyhound Association, expressed satisfaction that the legislation appeared to have failed again this year but was worried that the efforts would continue. “They are spending millions of dollars trying to destroy greyhound racing not only in Iowa but around the country,” he said.

The scene downstairs suggested why. Working a different slot machine with each hand, Angela Clover, 58, said she used to attend the greyhound races with her father, who is still a regular, but she had not returned for years. She said the slots were more of a rush.

Her 28-year-old son, Nick, nodded in agreement. “You really have to pay attention to the background and history of the dogs,” he said. “That’s a lot of work to do. You won’t see very many guys my age up there.”

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Yvonne
8 years ago

I would think the reason for so many people not wanting to watch the races is due to so much evidence of years of mistreating those dogs and so many of them murdered after they arnt needed anymore!

Jato791
Jato791
8 years ago
Reply to  Yvonne

You are sadly misinformed. Most greyhounds coming off the track in this day and age go into adoption.  BTW, “murder” is the unlawful killing of another human, not an animal.

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Jato791

The problem is in the number of greyhounds who are not included in the “most.”

Dogfuzzer
Dogfuzzer
8 years ago

It may be a monetary decision for the track owners but the public is finally realizing the cruely behind the racing.  The article says the dogs get put up for adoption after their careers are over.  The lucky ones get put up for adoption after their careers are over.  There are probably more leftovers than there are homes and more bred than make the cut in the first place.  It’s just another excuse to add to the pet overpopulation problem. 

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

I really hate to be ugly, but there are a lot of reports out there about the mistreatment of the dogs.  There are less than 24 thousand bred in a year, and most are petted out after they are done racing.  Accurate records are kept by the NGA..  Obviously neither of you has been behind the scenes as you parrot what a couple of anti-racing groups (who make millions but do NO adoptions) for their own pockets.  Figures are on Guidestar.  When you have more than 5000 dollars tied up in a dog BEFORE they hit the track, you don’t mistreat them.  I have worked around greyhounds and with greyhound adoption and with track adoption groups, with breeders, with trainers, since 1991.  When bad trainers have been found, they have been removed from racing and from dealing with greyhounds.  The industry polices itself, and when they get reports, they are taken care of. 
Why don’t you start in on the puppy mills who turn out thousands of ‘designer dogs’ a year, and make huge profits breeding a little female every time she weans a litter.  I have seen and dealt with a few of those; have you bothered checking the breeding numbers for labs, for pit bulls, for pekes, for chihuahuas?  They breed over 100K a year EACH BREED.  

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I’m afraid you’re not correct on the ability of the industry to police itself.  The main racing associations are trade groups, and they have little to no enforcement power.  It’s also not in their best interest to expose situations that would reflect poorly on the industry, since that goes against their mission of promoting greyhound racing.  The chief inspector for one of the association groups is actively involved in racing.  That’s a huge conflict of interest, and indicates the inability of that association to ensure the welfare of greyhounds effectively.

There are many owners and trainers who likely do care for the dogs as if they’re their own pets.  The problem is, when you value a dog based on how much money you’ve put into it, you turn that dog into a commodity.  Greyhounds and other dogs should have intrinsic value, unrelated to their ability to win races or earn money for the owners.  The amateur racing groups seem to do quite well for themselves, and those folks pay for the privilege of involving their dogs.  There’s no betting involved, and the dogs go back home at the end of the day.  I think that’s a much better model than the current system of greyhound racing.

Jato791
Jato791
8 years ago
Reply to  Eric Jackson

Eric, you have been misinformed. Greyhound racing does punish PROVEN offenders by banishment and denial of privileges. The offenders can no longer participate in any way, shape or form in greyhound racing.  What usually happens is that the alleged offender is suspended prior to being charged & tried by local gov’t. The NGA cannot usurp the authority of local government. After an alleged offender is charged & tried, then and only then can the NGA ban the offender from racing IF the offender is found guilty.  That is how it usually works in any endeavor.

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Jato791

There is no reason the NGA cannot take independent action, as is commonly done by other regulatory agencies.  Violating the groups rules is wholly separate from criminal activity.

Jato791
Jato791
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Grannygrey – There are less than 12K greyhounds bred each year!  

All the “reports” of cruelty that are out there trace back to Grey2K or it’s sister organization, GPL. Try and find something independent of them. 

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago
Reply to  Jato791

 Thanks, Jato791.  I didn’t know it had dropped that far.  I knew it probably was well under 20 K by now…but just didn’t check to see for sure.  And, as for the ‘cruelty reports’, I happen to know personally that some anti-racing groups have actually committed cruelty to animals to ‘prove their point’. 

HoundLover
HoundLover
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

There is an anti-racing “rescue” group in New Mexico that received perfectly healthy greyhounds from a breeder. This group starved the poor dogs for a week, then called the media to report the  emaciated condition of the “rescued” greyhounds.

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Grannygrey, if you know of such cruel acts, you should post names, dates, etc.  I have heard such *rumors* before, but nobody wants to actually post the facts.

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

How many tracks and kennels have you actually be to?  I don’t mean standing outside protesting, but INSIDE and have you ever been down in the kennel areas?  I don’t see politicians policing themselves; they need to.  There have been a lot of changes in the greyhound industry over the past 20 years and many of you choose to ignore this.  I received my first grey from a breeder when she broke her leg as a puppy.  He could have put her down in 91 and no one would have known..except NGA…as she was from a registered litter.  BTW, he also had her leg taken care of BEFORE I got her.  She stayed with the same vet, who was grey-savvy until I moved from Texas. 
My RESCUES..have been from collectors, and adopters who were not what they said, and the dogs were not cared for.
I have had dogs straight off the track walk into my house and we had no trouble with stairs, fans, because they watched my dog once.  They weren’t skittish, they were used to people, and these were dogs who either flunked out of racing or retired.  I don’t see where you actually have any hands on experience; you talk a good game..but politicians also do that.  I was raised in politics, and have fought much of my life for things.  If I thought the dogs were being mistreated, and slaughtered like so many of you feel, I would be yelling the loudest..but I would be working to change it, not destroy something.  

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

How many tracks and kennels have you actually be to?  I don’t mean standing outside protesting, but INSIDE and have you ever been down in the kennel areas?  I don’t see politicians policing themselves; they need to.  There have been a lot of changes in the greyhound industry over the past 20 years and many of you choose to ignore this.  I received my first grey from a breeder when she broke her leg as a puppy.  He could have put her down in 91 and no one would have known..except NGA…as she was from a registered litter.  BTW, he also had her leg taken care of BEFORE I got her.  She stayed with the same vet, who was grey-savvy until I moved from Texas. 
My RESCUES..have been from collectors, and adopters who were not what they said, and the dogs were not cared for.
I have had dogs straight off the track walk into my house and we had no trouble with stairs, fans, because they watched my dog once.  They weren’t skittish, they were used to people, and these were dogs who either flunked out of racing or retired.  I don’t see where you actually have any hands on experience; you talk a good game..but politicians also do that.  I was raised in politics, and have fought much of my life for things.  If I thought the dogs were being mistreated, and slaughtered like so many of you feel, I would be yelling the loudest..but I would be working to change it, not destroy something.  

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Yes, things have greatly improved in the last 20 years, but there are still problems that need to addressed.  There are still greyhound owners/trainers who don’t care enough about the dogs to have them adopted out.  Arizona regulations require that the tracks do everything possible to ensure dogs are adopted out, but it’s still up to the owner to decide.  I hope every owner/trainer does the right thing, since greyhounds live a lot longer (12 – 14 years) than they can race (2 – 5 years of age).  

Jato791
Jato791
8 years ago
Reply to  Eric Jackson

I would recommend that instead of working against the people in racing, rather than working to destroy their lives, work with them. It’s easier to catch flies when you use honey rather than vinegar. Kindness goes a long way whereas venom closes a lot of doors.

It is unfortunate, but some people have made reputations for themselves and those reputations do not foster good feelings either within racing or within greyhound adoptions. It’s a pretty sad statement when adoption groups don’t trust or work with other groups because the “others” have been found to be untrustworthy, among things. I will NEVER work with the group with which you are allied because of what that group did to me and said about me.  I trust your fearless leader about as far as I can throw her and that isn’t very far. I am civil towards her, but that’s only because my mother taught me manners and civility. 
Anyway, for those individuals, it is doubtful that there will ever be any trust established. Face it, people are judged by the company they keep and if you keep company with dishonest & hateful people, you too will be judged as being the same as they. That’s human nature…  No one ever said that life is fair.

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Jato791

I would address your comments specifically, but I don’t know who you are behind the nickname.

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Yes, things have greatly improved in the last 20 years, but there are still problems that need to addressed.  There are still greyhound owners/trainers who don’t care enough about the dogs to have them adopted out.  Arizona regulations require that the tracks do everything possible to ensure dogs are adopted out, but it’s still up to the owner to decide.  I hope every owner/trainer does the right thing, since greyhounds live a lot longer (12 – 14 years) than they can race (2 – 5 years of age).  

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

Well, Eric, when a group takes a dog and abuses it and then says it came like this from the breeder, breeders find out, and they really don’t care to have their dogs go to some groups.  It so happens some of us had taken pictures of the dog within a day of its leaving the track, and 10 days later, we see pictures of a horribly abused dog..starving..didn’t happen at the breeders or the track. 

BTW, why don’t you put some effort to getting ‘designer dogs’ which far outnumber greyhounds, or labs, who are constantly being put down because they are overbred and inbred and develop genetic problems.  

Oh, are you ever going to answer my question if you have ever been to a track and back to the track kennels and to a breeding farm?  Seems like you are ducking that issue.  Just saying….

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

If you have specific examples, I would suggest you post them.  Speaking in generalities does not further the discussion.

On the topic of “designer dogs” and others, those animals are bred as pets, not as commodities for an industry.  There are rescue groups for every breed I have encountered, and even groups for “mutts” or mixed breed dogs.

I have not been to a track, kennel, or farm.  By the same token, how  many Shakespearean scholars have been to 16th Century England?

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

Dance around all you wish.  Most of TODAY’s Shakespearean actors, the great ones, have been to England..little hard to reach 16th century.  BUT..you answered my question.  You have NO idea what goes on at the track, in a kennel or on a farm, and the ignorance shows.  You are capable of going, so the comparison was a tad ridiculous.  Oh, and in Merrie Olde Englande, guess what greyhounds were doing?  

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I references scholars, not actors.  In the intellectual and research communities, there are distinctions between primary and secondary sources.  When you can’t engage with primary sources, you rely on the secondary ones.  Thus far, there has been exactly one offer to visit a farm, and that’s in Kansas.  I haven’t been able to make that trip yet, but I hope at some point to do so, despite the invitees propensity to issue vague threats about physical violence.  What I keep hearing from racing kennels and trainers is, “You better not show up here!”

TQF1996
TQF1996
8 years ago

No one has mentioned that racing dogs and horses is expoloitive. Each arena has its cruelties and I abhor both. You can have clean kennels and walk the dogs five times a day, however, the fact remmains that racing dogs is exploitive meaning people make money either from racing the dog or betting on the dog. You can argue all you like that Greyhounds like to run; it doesn’t excuse using an animal to make money or the prospect of making money.

And in response to the person who said murder applies only to humans – murder is a death without meaning. Killing dogs who failed to be good racers or killing animals in shelters because no one adopted them is murder because these are deaths without meaning.

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