Florida Votes to Ban Greyhound Racing by 2021, Signaling Possible End of the Sport in US
Grayhound racing at the Palm beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. / Photo by Addiel Perera, WPB Magazine

Florida votes to ban greyhound racing by 2021, signaling possible end of the sport in US.

That means after December 31st, 2020, dog racing and betting on dog racing will be no more. That includes greyhounds and other breeds. Opponents of the Amendment included the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Greyhound Association.

There are only a few dog-racing tracks in the United States, and nearly all of them are in Florida. Greyhound racing is currently practiced in 17 track in only 6 states, and eleven of those tracks are in Florida. The practice is seen as cruel to the dogs. Banning dog racing would not impact slot machines and other forms of gaming.

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However, many of the current dog tracks also have card rooms inside where you can play poker and gamble. This new amendment won’t affect how those card rooms or other gambling activities take place.

Voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment stopping the 100-year-old sport statewide.

Greyhound racing will end in Lee County. Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing and Poker must close all racing operations within three years, although the track could stop the seasonal races sooner.

With nearly all votes counted statewide, about 5.3 million voters, or 69 percent, favored the amendment compared to about 2.4 million, or 31 percent, against it.

In Lee County, 194,554 voters, or 70 percent, favored the amendment compared to 81,671 voters, or 30 percent, against it. For Collier County, 102,399 voters, or 71 percent, favored the amendment while 42,854 voters, or 29 percent, were against the ban.

“This industry is on its way out, but meanwhile dogs are suffering,” said Kate MacFall, Florida director for the Humane Society of the United States.

But racing supporters say greyhounds are treated better than most pets and are happiest when competing. They say injured dogs get quality veterinary treatment and racing opponents exaggerate the frequency of injuries to garner donations. Most injured or slow dogs are adopted, not destroyed, they say, and the industry supports 3,000 jobs.

“If reincarnation exists, people should want to come back as a racing dog,” said Palm Beach trainer Arthur Agganis, who has been running greyhounds for 43 years and has five employees. He said his 120 dogs are outside, off-leash three hours daily and get walks, massages and whirlpool baths. His income comes from winning, he said, and abused dogs are slow dogs.

He said the industry works to eliminate abusive trainers: “We police our own business — if we see something, see anybody do anything at all wrong, … they are out.”

Florida became the first state to legalize betting on greyhound racing in 1931. Some tracks dressed monkeys as jockeys and strapped them to dogs’ backs but stopped after many died. Thousands, including celebrities like Babe Ruth and Frank Sinatra, turned out in its heyday.

It’s much different today.

In Palm Beach, the intense gamblers inhabit the track’s poker room and surround simulcast screens after placing bets on horse races around the country.

The amount wagered on greyhound racing in Florida dropped from $1.5 billion in 1992, adjusted for inflation, to just over $200 million in 2017, state records show. After paying bettors, purses and taxes, five tracks reported losses on the sport and the then-12 tracks’ combined net revenue on live racing was $20 million. That’s about a fifth their poker net.