Bills would allow gambling without Greyhounds


Bills would allow gambling without
greyhounds
Derby Lane in St. Petersburg won't change its racing schedule if a bill passes the legislature that would allow gambling at racing sites without actually having dog races.

Derby Lane in St. Petersburg won’t change its racing
schedule if a bill passes the legislature that would allow gambling at racing
sites without actually having dog races.
TALLAHASSEE – There may be
a lot fewer greyhounds running in the nation’s dog-racing capital if bills
moving through the state Legislature receive final
approval.
“We have no plans
on altering our racing schedule whatsoever,” said Vera Rasnake, spokeswoman for
the St. Petersburg track.

Rasnake’s
assessment comes as the Legislature considers bills that would allow greyhound
sites to cease live racing to focus on card rooms. Current law requires tracks
to run a certain amount of races in order to operate poker
games.

Aside from Derby
Lane’s outlook, greyhound racing has foundered elsewhere in the state as
gamblers turn to cards, slot machines and Indian casinos that have recently
expanded offerings with the Legislature’s blessing.

Florida has been
the nation’s top dog-racing state, with 16 facilities. But the total “handle,”
or amount wagered on greyhounds statewide, has decreased from $633 million in
1999-2000 to $292 million in 2009-2010.

Tampa Greyhound
Track is among four Florida sites that has shipped its racing slate to other
tracks. Tampa Greyhound, on Nebraska Avenue, now focuses exclusively on its
Lucky’s Card Room and moved its half-year schedule across the bay to Derby Lane.
That strategy falls within the Legislature’s mandate of offering live
racing.

Supporters of the
legislation said they want to allow the market to drive racing schedules, not
artificial state requirements.

“Whatever gambling
scheme that we had in the past is not working any more,” said Sen. Ellyn
Bogdanoff, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax,
which passed the bill on Wednesday.

“We have a
decision to make as to whether we want to allow our businesses to grow or if we
want to strategically and statutorily run them out of businesses,” said
Bogdanoff, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale.

Sen. Jim Norman
said Indian casinos, dog racing, horse racing and jai-alai have all had their
waves of popularity. He noted that a Home Depot now stands on the Dale Mabry
Highway site of the former Tampa Jai-Alai Fronton.

“I’ve seen the
evolution of things over the time periods,” said Norman, a Tampa Republican.
“The market changes. We need to get out of the way.”

Opponents of the
bill, including the Florida and National Greyhound Associations, said continuing
the existing racing slates would protect over 3,000 jobs and produce more than
$5 million in state revenue.

Meanwhile, Crystal
Carroll, a greyhound trainer and breeder from Miami, feared that the widespread
elimination of racing would release a flood of unwanted dogs onto the adoption
market.

“There’s no
phase-out plan in the bill,” she said. “It’s really irresponsible to me. They
don’t understand the sheer number of dogs this could affect.”

Carroll put the
figure at 10,000 dogs. “I know what it would be like on the adoption end,” she
said. “There’s no way to handle that many animals.”

A House companion
passed out of a committee earlier this week and has one more hearing scheduled
before going to a full floor vote. The Senate bill has two more committee
stops.

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