02/19/2014 4:20PM

Florida anti-greyhound racing groups push to separate casino licenses from racetracks


A coalition of animal-welfare groups opposed to greyhound racing launched a campaign in Florida on Wednesday seeking to push state legislators to support a bill that would end a requirement that casino licenses be issued only to operating racetracks. 

If the groups are successful, the campaign could have significant repercussions on the state’s Thoroughbred industry. Florida’s two Miami-area tracks, Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, both operate casinos that are tied to their Thoroughbred-racing permits. If a law were passed “decoupling” the casino license from the permit, a track would no longer need to support a racing operation while operating a far more lucrative casino, a possibility that would likely lead at least Calder to reconsider whether it planned to continue racing.

The anti-greyhound racing groups released a report on Wednesday at a press conference saying that 74 greyhounds had died at Florida’s dog-racing tracks between May 21 and Dec. 31 of last year. The groups, led by the national organization Grey2K USA, said the deaths occurred because of catastrophic injuries, illnesses, and suspected heat stroke. In one case, according to the groups, a 17-month-old unnamed dog died after colliding with the inner rail in a schooling race.

“Other greyhounds were electrocuted, broke their legs, suffered heat strokes or simply died of exhaustion – all so that someone could place a $2 bet,” said the organization on its website, which raises funds for the group.

The groups also released a video called “No Sunshine” set to music from a Boston, Mass., group, featuring graphic footage from four races in which dogs were injured.

In 2008, after an aggressive campaign by Grey2K, Massachusetts citizens voted overwhelmingly to ban dog racing. The campaign included the use of graphic video materials and accusations that greyhound racing is cruel.

Although Grey2K has said that it intends to lobby for a bill that would only decouple casino permits from dog tracks, other Florida groups have called for a decoupling of all the casino permits. The Florida legislature is expected to weigh a number of bills this year dealing with casino gambling, as part of a push to consider an expansion in the number of facilities operating in the state.

Churchill Downs Inc., the parent company of Calder, began losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue last year on its racetrack operations after Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs qualified as “host tracks” under a quirky Florida law. The law allows host tracks to resell simulcast signals in the state, and it has cost Calder business due to competition from the two tracks in the in-state resale market for the first time.

In addition, Calder has lost revenue due to new competition from Gulfstream Park during its traditional summer dates. Gulfstream began running head-to-head against Calder on July 1 last year, and, in response, Calder began running during the winter for the first time, overlapping with Gulfstream’s traditional dates.

Like Calder, Gulfstream operates a casino adjacent to its track, and the company recently reached a deal to partner with Genting, a Malaysian conglomerate that operates a casino adjacent to Aqueduct racetrack in New York, to open a casino on the Miami waterfront if legislators rewrite state laws allowing for the project. Genting would operate the casino under a license granted to a non-profit company that ran one race at Gulfstream Park in 2012, a Quarter Horse race matching two horses that started at a flagfall.