Greyhound racing is a dying sport in America

Greyhound dog racing is now merely a sideshow at most US tracks, where casino games bring in the real profits. The sport has also been the subject of intense criticism. (Image: derrydaily.net)

If you look around the USA, you’ll still see a fair amount of dog racing, at least in those states that haven’t made the practice illegal, following massive criticism of many of the issues surrounding the sport. But at most tracks, greyhounds are now raced only to fulfill a legal obligation that allows the owners to also stage more profitable activities. And if the time comes when that motivation to stage dog races goes away, there may be no reason left to have them at all: something that many people would say is a good thing.

The signs of dog racing’s demise have been seen by industry experts for decades. In 1990, there was nearly $1 billion bet on live dog races in Florida, one of the remaining hotbeds for the contests. In 2013, that number had dropped to $258 million. The decline has been largely attributed to the spread of casino gambling across the country, which gave gamblers and tourists more options for spending their time and money.

Dog Racing Only a Path to Casino Revenues

Yet those same casinos have likely saved greyhound racing at the same time. Many tracks are subsidized by the same casinos that have taken their business away, making it profitable to keep the races going, even as interest in them has waned.

In many cases, the track owners actually run casinos, slot parlors, or poker rooms themselves. In these cases, it’s almost always the other business that’s profitable; the races are required as part of licenses that require “coupling” the casino-style games with races.

That’s the case in Florida, which is still home to 12 of the 21 American tracks that offer live greyhound racing. Many other tracks don’t even have their own races anymore, and keep up the racing part of the bargain only by simulcasting contests from other tracks.

Owners, Opponents Want Decoupling

This has left many racetrack owners to push for a “decoupling” movement that would end their obligation to run dog races and just let them focus on their other gambling interests. This has caused an unusual alliance between track owners and animal rights groups who believe that the races are cruel and that the dogs are mistreated. These groups believe that decoupling will inevitably lead to the end (however slowly) of greyhound racing in the United States.

In Florida’s most recent attempt to restructure the state’s gaming laws, one proposal to decouple casino gambling from greyhound racing was rejected, though it could come back next year. Similarly, West Virginia killed a bill that would have cut the licensing fees and reduced the minimum number of race days required at one of the state’s two dog racing tracks.

With both owners and opponents on board for decoupling, you might be wondering who is against the change. One answer is the horse racing industry, which believes such a movement could eventually kill their sport as well.

Horse racing is a much more popular and financially viable sport than greyhound racing. However, only the largest tracks are truly profitable, and many now operate “racinos” with slot machines and other games in order to turn a profit. If horse racing were not required, some of these tracks could switch over to pure casino operations, shrinking the industry.

Greyhound racing is currently illegal in 39 states, while four others have no tracks, despite the lack of laws prohibiting them. Along with Florida, which has a dozen venues, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia each host one or two dog racing tracks.