Dog Racing’s Demise in Florida Signals Slow End to Longtime Gambling Sport

Posted on: January 6, 2021, 02:23h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 01:25h.

Legal greyhound racing ended in Florida on New Year’s Eve. This comes more than two years after Sunshine State voters said they wanted to ban gambling on dog races. Some see this as a sign that the sport is dying nationwide.

Southland Casino Racing
A dog sprints toward the finish line at Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The dog track is expected to close in 2022. (Image: Memphis Flyer)

A dog named Bug Brush crossed the finish line first at Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach at about midnight on New Year’s Eve, according to NBC News. This ended legal greyhound racing in Florida and signaled a near extinction of the sport in the US. 

Dog racing was legalized in Florida in 1931. At one time, the state had 11 of the 17 dog tracks in the nation. However, in November 2018, voters in the state overwhelmingly approved Amendment 13 to ban the sport at the end of 2020. 

This leaves three states — Iowa, Arkansas, and West Virginia — with legal greyhound racing. Tracks in Texas and Alabama went out of business last year, the news network reported. In the 1980s, the nation had 60 dog tracks in more than a dozen states from Connecticut to Arizona. 

Patrick Rooney Jr., president of the Palm Beach Kennel Club, told NBC News that dog racing “has been on the decline for several years.”

“Anything with an animal component to it is going to have a difficult time surviving in this society that we are becoming,” said Rooney, grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney. “We are being more sensitive to, whether real or imagined, the feelings of animals and how they’re treated.”

Declining Interest

Laws are in place in 41 states banning dog racing. Christine Dorchak of the anti-racing organization GREY2K, told NBC News her group is pushing for a federal ban.

Even without a nationwide ban, dog racing is having less success at betting windows than in previous years.

Iowa’s only dog track was on pace late last year for its third straight year of lower betting totals. 

Wagering also had been down three straight years at Arkansas’ dog track, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis. The track is across the Mississippi River from the larger Memphis, Tennessee, metropolitan area. In 2019, bettors wagered $14.2 million on live dog races at Southland. This is lowest amount in 10 years, according to NBC News. 

Betting Slump

News stories have indicated that dog racing could be on its way out soon in Iowa and Arkansas. NBC News reported that a subsidy to the greyhound industry in Iowa sunsets in December 2022. This is expected to finish off dog racing in Iowa.

In Arkansas, officials at Southland have said dog racing will be phased out by Dec. 31, 2022. With this phasing out, the number of dog race will go from 6,656 in 2019 to 2,662 in 2022, according to WMC-TV in Memphis.

The track in West Memphis has expanded into a full casino, with a gaming floor and sportsbook. It is one of three casinos in Arkansas. The other two are in Hot Springs and Pine Bluff. A fourth casino in Russellville has been licensed, but is tied up in a legal dispute.

According to NBC News, West Virginia is “poised to become the nation’s leading greyhound jurisdiction.” The state’s two dog tracks took in $124.8 million in 2019.