Just more than a century ago, a would-be entrepreneur launched live greyhound racing as a spectator sport in Emeryville, Calif., and before long, watching and wagering on the fleet-footed, wisp-thin dogs fast becoming a popular pastime in America. At one point, it was the sixth most popular spectator sport in America. In more recent decades, the popularity of greyhound race waned, but even by the end of the 20th century, it was still a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Even a generation ago, there were more than 60 tracks in about 20 states, with a total handle exceeding $3 billion on dog races.
Today, this form of entertainment has nearly vanished in the United States, with tracks hanging on just in two small cities in West Virginia. The industry, battered by a powerful movement to ban racing led by GREY2K USA Worldwide, has shed tracks one at a time and also in larger bunches as now 42 states have banned the practice. That decline also has been accelerated by a nationwide expansion of casino-style gambling and other games of chance that proved far more alluring to wagerers than greyhounds making 30-second dashes in pursuit of a mechanical rabbit.
Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers — led by Congressmen Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, with Don Davis, N.C., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore., Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C. — introduced legislation to wind down greyhound racing in its entirety in the United States. Perhaps more important, the Greyhound Protection Act, H.R. 3894, also seeks to prevent the U.S. market from feeding foreign-owned tracks, whether through simulcasting of the foreign races here at home or by selling U.S.-bred greyhounds to tracks from Mexico to China.
Congressional action punctuates years of state-based progress
Florida proved to be the tipping point when it came to the future of American greyhound racing.
There, in 2018, a Florida commission put the issue of greyhound racing on the statewide ballot, allowing for an up-or-down vote on whether Florida’s 12 tracks could continue to operate from Pensacola to Miami.
With Animal Wellness Action collaborating with GREY2k USA in guiding the campaign for Amendment 13, what started as a tough battle turned into a rout. Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to end dog racing within two years, with voters backing the measure by a lopsided vote of 69 percent to 31 percent. That’s the equivalent in politics of a race where the winner beats the competition by a country mile.
Given that Florida’s 12 tracks had been operating for decades in its biggest metropolitan areas, this would have been the place for the industry to make its stand. In this case, however, familiarity with the ugly details of greyhound racing had apparently bred contempt. Florida’s 12 tracks — two thirds of all U.S. greyhound tracks — would be shuttered within two years.
The effects were felt immediately in the remaining places where dogs run around dirt ovals. Alabama’s lone track in Birmingham announced an end to live racing effective in April 2020, and Texas followed suit and immediately terminated live racing. Iowa’s track in Dubuque announced it would end live racing in 2022. And in an ominous sign for the West Virginia tracks, Arkansas’s Southland track in West Memphis — owned by Delaware North, the same national company that owns the West Virginia racing venues — ended its operations at the end of last year.
Concerns about foreign tracks fuel federal legislation
As live greyhound racing winds down in the United States, we must prevent simulcasting of greyhound races from Mexico, and the export of racing greyhounds to China, so American gamblers do not unwittingly prop up animal cruelty in overseas jurisdictions. Given that the American public has already withdrawn its dollars from the American industry, there’s no reason to give foreign-owned companies and cartels a supply of greyhounds or simulcasting a foothold in the homeland.
The foreign tracks are almost certainly worse than the U.S. tracks when it comes to animal welfare. And that’s saying something. Dogs used for racing here are confined in stacked metal cages for up to 23 hours a day. When let out to race, they suffer serious injuries, including broken legs and backs, crushed skulls, and paralysis.
Greyhound breeders in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas have been documented killing rabbits in cruel “live lure” training exercises. According to an undercover investigator working on behalf of GREY2K USA, trainers bred or trained more than 100 dogs at these live-lure facilities for transport back to states with commercial racetracks, including in West Virginia.
If we cannot stop foreign tracks from broadcasting their signals in the United States, allowing them to draw millions of dollars from gambling receipts here, we’d see the U.S. market breathe life into tracks in Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam, and the other small set of nations that still hosts these live-animal races. Some of these venues have no animal welfare standards at all.
The animal protection community is particularly concerned about the involvement of Tijuana dog track Agua Caliente. There are no animal welfare standards at Caliente, and its owner, Jorge Hank Rhon, has previously been linked to drug cartels by U.S. authorities.
The tapping of the U.S. market, and the breeding of animals for a spectator sport, is exactly what’s happening with cockfighting. It’s outlawed in the U.S., but our nation has become the cockfighting breeding ground to the world, shipping perhaps more than a million fighting birds a year to foreign fighting pits. And now, foreign gambling interests are relentlessly promoting on-line cockfighting sites in the United States. To give a sense of the scale of the gambling, government authorities in the Philippines said wagering on cockfighters in that country alone topped $13 billion in gambling receipts in a recent year. U.S. receipts could swell that number further. With the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act, H.R. 2742 and S. 1529, we are taking aim at cockfighting and other animal-fighting commerce.
Right alongside that anti-cockfighting legislation is our anti-greyhound racing legislation, in the form of the Greyhound Protection Act.
The United States is not an island. It is a massive marketplace. And the biggest economy in the world should not breathe life into global animal-exploitation industries that are ruthless and inhumane, no matter where they operate.
We have a chance to end greyhound racing permanently in America and cripple it globally. Take a moment to contact your federal lawmakers and urge them co-sponsor the Greyhound Protection Act.