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While controversy surrounds Florida greyhound racing, the sport is quietly fading away

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PHOTO BY JEREMY REPER
  • Photo by Jeremy Reper

Grey2K's Theil isn't so sure that the dogs enjoy racing so much as they enjoy not being cooped up in kennels for much of the day.

"I think greyhounds love to run," he says. "I have one and she loves to run. But I think it's cruel to keep them confined for 22 hours a day. I'm sure some do love to run – who wouldn't, after they were kept in a cage for 22 hours a day?"

He says the belief that dogs "love" to race sounded to him more like a rationalization for the "cruelty of what [greyhound racing tracks] are doing," and says he disputes the existence of any "good" greyhound racing tracks.

Most track managers face a predicament more akin to O'Brien's than Cohen's situation – they're forced to hold the racing in order to keep their pari-mutuel contracts, and losing money from it all the time.

Izzy Havernick, vice president of political affairs at the Miami track Magic City Casino, is frank in admitting that his track loses around $2 million per year putting on greyhound races.

He blames the restrictive rules of the state.

"The number of races we have to run is mandated by the state," he says. "And they force us to run so many, whatever little traction we get, we do it so frequently that people start losing interest. The state mandates we run the amount of races we ran in 1996. The world is different than it was in '96. Rather than let the market dictate how much racing we do, they use an arbitrary number from way back when – that's what we have to run today."

Havernick calls the rules "a huge burden" and says it would actually be in the dogs' best interest to run fewer races as well.

The number of track attendees that come in specifically for the greyhound racing is dwindling, too – he says they have maybe 15 or 20 regulars who come in and watch the races often.

The state bill that could have decoupled greyhound racing would have ended the mandate that horse and dog tracks conduct live racing. However, it was not to be.

By May 2, the deal had officially fallen apart. The main point of contention was slot machines – eight counties in Florida voted to approve them as alternatives to poker gambling, but the House thought it wouldn't work because only those counties had voted for it, not the entire state.

And so the bill fell apart, and with it, the decoupling of greyhound racing.

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