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When racing goes to the dogs

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | APRIL 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Once the esteemed companions of Egyptian pharaohs, greyhounds deserve better than running for their lives — and dog-track owners couldn’t agree more.

Iowa is one of only seven states in the nation that hasn’t outlawed greyhound racing, a ludicrous source of gambling revenue. I find it promising that a recently proposed amendment to Senate File 458 — the online gambling bill, as it has become known — seeks to do just that. Senate Study Bill 1064 would require that licensed dog-racing venues pay an “annual dog racetrack licensure fee to the [gambling] commission” to “discontinue scheduling performances of live dog races.”

While that may sound antithetical, dog track owners have been asking for this for years: In 1988, betting on the hounds raked in nearly $67 million at Dubuque’s greyhound track; in 2009, that profit had dropped to a mere $1.7 million, according an October article in the Des Moines Register. An amendment similar to Study Bill 1064 was rejected last year, prompting a lawyer for the casino entertainment giant Harrah’s to note that they “will definitely be pursuing the elimination of greyhound racing.”

And according to William Petroski of the Register, who has been a longtime proponent of ending the races, the owners of Council Bluffs’ Bluffs Run Greyhound Park “offered to pay state officials millions of dollars annually for the right to quit offering greyhound races, which are poorly attended and have low levels of betting.”

This is why the study bill also includes provisions that essentially let the tracks off the hook, monetarily speaking. Starting in January 2012 — and for seven-straight years — the tracks in Dubuque and Pottawattamie County would pay $3 million and $7 million respectively to not hold races, as opposed to the costly subsidization of the betting pool. This money would instead be put into an “Iowa Greyhound Owners and Kennels Retirement Fund” to later be distributed among greyhound adopters and state kennels, creating a path to complete abolition.

The bill additionally allows for the televising of out-of-state greyhound races at these casinos, but this is where the issue gets tricky. The Dubuque track is working with the Iowa Greyhound Association to start broadcasting their races to other in- and out-of-state casinos for betting. This would cost the dog track some $200,000 per year — petty change when compared with paying the state not to host the races at all.

So what are the chances for this amendment, not to mention the online gambling bill, to be passed this legislative session? It may come down to the level of humanitarian (or in this instance, caninitarian) backlash against racing. The 38 states that have outlawed live races did so despite how “well-cared for” the kennels’ dogs were.

After all, gambling is not particularly beneficial to society (though it may help pad the pocketbooks), and for every 10 retired greyhounds, at least one is inevitably euthanized (usually because of its inability to adapt to regular life or physical disabilities).

In what other race are the runners required to wear silly jerseys over their legs, muzzles over their mouths, leap out of boxes, and then sprint around in circles chasing electronically controlled bait? While I am cognizant that greyhounds are, in fact, not people, something tells me that prohibiting human runners from training prior to 8 years old (calculating in dog years) wouldn’t hurt their Olympic chances.

There are only two dog-racing tracks in Iowa, both of which have helped the state greyhound industry create 70 kennels and provide 1,300 jobs. In fact, Iowa State University’s “Iowa Horse and Dog Breeding Bureau” (overseen by the pro-agribusiness Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Services) has benefited immensely from the continuance of greyhound racing in the state.

But when casinos are offering to pay the state millions out of their own pockets to end greyhound racing, this should give lawmakers a pretty clear signal that it’s time to pack up; the race is over. I can only hope that this year, the Iowa Legislature will follow in the footsteps of the majority of the country and end dog racing once and for all.


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