Free Minds & Free Markets

Florida Bans Greyhound Racing After State Law Kept It Going for Years

It would have been better to let the sport fail on its own.

Francois Loubser | Dreamstime.comFrancois Loubser |

Voters in Florida decisively banned greyhound racing in the 2018 midterms after a bitter showdown between animal rights activists and the breeding industry. But the entire debate might have been avoided if the state hadn't essentially required greyhound racing in the first place. Were it not for an ill-advised 1997 law, the sport would have likely crumbled under its own weight years ago.

State records show that, adjusting for inflation, money wagered on the long-legged canines fell from $1.5 billion in 1992 to $200 million in 2017. In order to stay solvent, racetracks increasingly relied on revenue from other forms of gambling. But in an effort to resuscitate the ailing dog racing industry (and to limit betting elsewhere), Florida passed a "coupling" law in 1997, prohibiting establishments from housing card rooms unless the facilities are "pari-mutuel"—that is, if they host wagers on jai alai, horse races, or greyhound races.

"You ended up with a bunch of racetracks that were essentially card rooms that happened to have dogs running around in circles with no one betting on the dogs," says Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, which advocates for greyhound welfare.

Establishments that once hosted spirited races pivoted to poker games and slot machines. Those have been wildly profitable, even as greyhound racing has been anything but. Yet the coupling law forced casino owners to continue the money-losing sport.

And those races lost a lot of money. According to state records, Florida racetracks lost an average of $34 million annually on greyhound racing from 2012 to 2016—not because they wanted to stay in the business, but because they had to.

"These numbers make it abundantly clear the public interest is waning," said Dana Young, then a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, in 2011. "For us to create a false market for the dog breeding product at the expense of taxpayers simply makes no sense."

Several attempts were made in the state legislature to amend the practice and decouple the mutually inclusive racing-gambling marriage, but they all failed. Much of the opposition to those reforms was driven by the greyhound breeding industry.

"It was our feeling that if the tracks would be allowed to bring in other gaming without the mandate of having greyhound racing, that they would've probably closed down the greyhound racing," says Jim Gartland, executive director of the National Greyhound Association. "We just didn't think it was fair."

Apart from the economic concerns, animal welfare advocates argue the dogs are mistreated, drugged, and more susceptible to injury and death on the tracks. Those in the business dispute those claims.

But the evidence offers at least some support for the notion that the greyhounds are subject to unsavory conditions. According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, 492 greyhound deaths were reported at Florida racetracks from May 2013 to July 2018—and that doesn't include the ones who were dragged off the premises and put down. The agency also recorded 949 greyhound drug positives between 2001 and 2017. The most common was Benzoylecgonine, the primary metabolite found in cocaine.

Gartland claims that the measure will cost the state 3,000 jobs, a figure that Theil says is "pulled out of the air"—the National Greyhound Association only boasted about 1,100 members nationwide at the end of 2018. What's more, the regulatory costs to the state likely exceed any tax benefits.

"Over a ten year period, the amount of state revenue, state and licensing fees that flow to the state, dropped from about fourteen million to about two million," said Tony Glover, who oversaw Florida's greyhound racing industry from 2016 to 2017.

But Amendment 13 was a solution to a problem that wouldn't have existed if the state had heeded business owners. "They wanted a market-friendly approach that would have given them the choice as to whether they raced dogs or not," Theil tells Reason. "The greyhound breeders opposed that, and what they got was Amendment 13—a complete prohibition."

Photo Credit: Francois Loubser |

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  • Boognish||

    I think there is a similar loophole for Jai Alai that is exploited by a seedy casino in Miami.

  • AB Negative||

    I knew the casinos, etc were for the ban but figured it was just to limit the options for gambling dollars to those they controlled. Turns out, it's also a good way to twist the knife in the competitors' backs by eliminating direct competition on card games as well. No dog track at your pari-mutuel? You now have to eat the (greater) expense of Jai Alai or ponies or close the blackjack tables too.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Hm, never knew Jai Alai was so popular for gambling. I guess people will bet on anything.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "...but any way, he was the curiosest man about always betting on any thing that turned up you ever see, if he could get any body to bet on the other side; and if he couldn't, he'd change sides..He was always ready and laying for a chance; If there was a horse-race, you'd find him flush, or you'd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he'd bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; If he even seen a straddle-bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley, and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to him he would bet on any thing the dangdest feller. Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn's going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley asked how she was, and he said she was considerable better thank the Lord for his inftnit mercy and coming on so smart that, with the blessing of Providence, she'd get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk two- and-a-half that she don't, any way." Mark Twin, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

  • Agammamon||

    "You ended up with a bunch of racetracks that were essentially card rooms that happened to have dogs running around in circles with no one betting on the dogs," says Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, which advocates for greyhound welfare.

    Having them all euthanized is certainly a better outcome, right?

  • Kandralla||

    Yes if it means a ton more won't be bred and then euthanized just so racetracks have dogs to run around track with no one watching.

  • Agammamon||

    Ah, for the good of the many, we must destroy this village to save it.

  • Juice||

    Yeah, it's a trolley problem. Kill a few now or many many more later.

  • Kandralla||

    No. For the good of many we should stop incentivising a bunch of people to continue to breed thousands of dogs that will be treated poorly because some politician decided that the worst thing in the world is for someone to play blackjack more than 300 yards from dogs running in a circle 6 months of the year.

    I have an adopted greyhound from a Florida track... you can go fuck yourself if you think mandating greyhound racing at casinos is better for the dogs (including the thousands of future euthanized dogs that will be bred to support a sport that exits for politicians only) than not.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    If they are turned into tasty snacks, why not?

    Some of you guys tend to forget to pretend to be libertarian.


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