By a Biometrica staffer
A move by the greyhound racing industry to have Florida’s dog racing ban declared unconstitutional was rejected last week by a federal appeals court, Casino.org reported on Monday, Aug. 16. Once considered “the mecca of dog racing in America,” a 2018 voter-approved ballot measure axed commercial greyhound racing in Florida. The state used to be home to 11 of the country’s remaining 17 dog tracks before the measure was overwhelmingly approved by some 69% of Floridians. The state’s final race was run at the Palm Beach Kennel Club on Dec. 31, 2020, the Casino.org report says.
In October 2019, a group calling itself “Support Working Animals Inc.” sued Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, and State Attorney General Ashley Moody over the 2018 ballot measure. The group argued that the measure, termed “Amendment 13” amounted to a “taking” of property under the Fifth Amendment. The lawsuit went on to state that the ban deprived the greyhound industry of “substantially all economically beneficial or productive use of their property and return on their investments.”
The greyhound industry also argued that the ban violated their equal protection rights because Florida continued to allow betting on horse racing, and they argued that dog racing had been singled out because it was “politically unpopular.” But the equal protection rights claim was rejected last April by Chief US District Judge Mark Walker, who said the ban did not “involve suspect classes such as race, gender, or national origin.”
Judge Walker had also dismissed a subsequent amended complaint on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have “standing” to sue State AG Moody. While the panel of appellate judges did not address the constitutional argument, they upheld the dismissal on the same grounds and said: “The plaintiffs’ real problem, as we understand their complaint, is with (the amendment) itself — its existence — and the economic consequences that its passage has visited or will visit on their businesses.” The panel added, “None of that, though, appears to be due to any past, present, or likely future conduct of the attorney general.”
Before Florida banned dog racing, dog tracks existed in the state in part because of a quirk in the law that required pari-mutuel venues to offer a quota of racing — whether they desired to or not — as a condition of their license to offer card games. Amendment 13, which we mentioned earlier in this piece, allowed the pari-mutuels to “decouple” themselves from dog racing and required commercial racing to be phased out completely by January 2021.
When Florida’s ban went into effect, it became the 41st state in the U.S. to outlaw dog racing. Active dog racing tracks currently exist only in Arkansas, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia, according to greyhound not-for-profit GREY2K USA. In Arkansas, a phasing out of dog racing is already in progress, though, while Iowa has announced a cessation on the practice by 2022. A quarter-century ago, there were 60 greyhound tracks in the U.S., Casino.org says.
Although it may be a dying industry, the National Greyhound Association claimed that dog racing was doing robust business in West Virginia. The state’s Wheeling Island and Tri-State reported a combined handle of $124 million in 2019, per Casino.org. Through the first three months of 2021, the two tracks reported $80 million. There is bipartisan support to continue with dog racing in West Virginia, even as the bipartisan push to end it nationally continues.
On May 19, 2021, a bipartisan group of US House members filed legislation that would ban greyhound racing and would amend the Wire Act to eliminate betting markets for the sport. The short title of this bill is the Greyhound Protection Act of 2021. It was sponsored by Rep. Tony Cárdenas, along with various other co-sponsors, including Reps. Mike Waltz, Steve Cohen, Elvira Salazar, Stephanie Murphy, and Brian Fitzpatrick. It marked the second straight year of Cárdenas filing a bill against greyhound racing.
There has been no action yet on the bill but if it does pass, it could likely become effective from Dec. 31, 2022. The aim of this legislation is to help protect greyhounds from abusive practices cited in the findings of this legislation, including prolonged confinement, drugging, and injury from over-racing.
According to the GREY2KUSA website, the dogs are confined for 20 to 23 hours each day and barely have enough room to stand up or turn around. They routinely suffer broken legs and other serious injuries, test positive for serious drugs including cocaine, are fed meat from drowned animals, are trained using barbaric “live lures” like rabbits and possums, are hauled long distance to commercial tracks, and are made to race year-round from the hottest days to the harshest of winters.