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Columbia County Observer

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Florida's Greyhound Racing Industry Deserves Protection

Florida was the first state to officially sanction greyhound racing in 1931 and for almost 85 years it’s been an enjoyable source of entertainment for Floridians as well as visitors to our state.

Just as importantly, greyhound racing track owners have made billions in revenue and made a big contribution to Florida’s economy over the years. Greyhound tracks and other pari-mutuel facilities enjoy a state-created monopoly, meaning they aren’t forced to compete in the open marketplace. Tracks not only are protected from competition, they have received hundreds of millions of dollars in tax benefits.

When attendance at greyhound tracks began to dip some years ago, the Florida Legislature gave track owners the right to offer card rooms at their facilities to increase revenue. Florida voters later allowed facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to add slot machines to their gaming offerings.

Those enhancements were added only because of the track owners’ continued commitment to their underlying business: greyhound racing.

Despite the promise to keep racing, many track owners now want the Legislature to allow them to get rid of greyhound racing while keeping the card rooms, and in some cases slot machines. They want to create small casinos that will dot Florida’s landscape from Pensacola to Miami and everywhere in between. That’s  despite the state’s constitutionally mandated prohibition of casino gaming, with the exception of Indian gaming controlled by the federal government.

The Florida Greyhound Association, an organization of owners, trainers and breeders across the state, opposes such efforts. Clearly those small business owners would be put out of business if millionaire track owners are allowed to end greyhound racing simply because casino gaming is the next pot of big money. Many of our members are multigeneration owners, trainers and breeders. They love their greyhounds — and love racing.

Asking the Legislature to end greyhound racing, or as it’s called in Tallahassee “decoupling,” is wrong for several reasons. First, it gives Floridians no voice in deciding whether they want to convert pari-mutuel facilities into mini casinos. Voters have repeatedly rejected constitutional amendments to bring casinos to the state. Special interest groups shouldn’t have the right to supersede the will of Floridians.

Secondly, track owners have been allowed to increase their profits with other gaming with greyhound racing serving as their core operation. Logically then, if there is no greyhound racing, why should these facilities be allowed to operate? If track owners can’t succeed at greyhound racing, with a guarantee of a no-competition monopoly, they should simply surrender their pari-mutuel license to the state and give someone else the opportunity to make it a success.

Greyhound racing remains a viable form of entertainment in Florida. The Sanford Orlando Kennel Club proves that point. With no other type of gaming, Sanford Orlando Kennel Club uses innovative marketing to make greyhound racing as popular as ever in Central Florida. It’s a model for the rest of the country. It just takes a desire to make greyhound racing work, and not undercut its success in order to convert tracks to casinos.

The Florida Greyhound Association is a willing partner with track owners in order to make dog racing a continued viable source of entertainment in the state. However, we’ve already been put on notice that we’ll once again have to fight efforts to end greyhound racing in Florida.

Track owners see huge dollars signs in their eyes with the hope of converting their dog tracks to casinos. We encourage Floridians to make their voices heard. Tell your local member of the Florida House and Senate that you not them have the final word on casino gambling in the Sunshine State.

Jack Cory is a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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