Greyhound racing’s 71-year run in Pensacola has ended, well ahead of the voter-mandated deadline 22 months from now.
In November, almost seven in ten voters statewide approved Amendment 13 – which bans live greyhound racing in Florida. Sixty-five percent of voters in Escambia County supported the amendment, which sprang from the Constitutional Revision Commission that met last year. The bill’s sponsor was former state Senate President Tom Lee.
“There are roughly 8,000 racing dogs at Florida tracks currently; there are 12 tracks operating here in Florida which represents two-thirds of those tracks nationwide,” Lee said last May. “Because greyhound racing is illegal now in 40 states and since 2004, the industry has essentially been cut in half.”
Pari-mutuel wagering in Florida — dog and horse racing, along with Jai Alai — has seen a steady decrease in both revenue and attendance. According to the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, betting declined 47 percent over the past decade, with total state revenues down 57 percent.
But it wasn’t just about the money – at the core of the amendment was the treatment of the dogs. Lee’s figures are from April, 2018.
“A greyhound dies every three days at a Florida track,” Lee said. “Since the state began tracking greyhound deaths in 2013, 438 dogs have died at race tracks in our state. Florida and Alabama are the only two states now that have some form of greyhound injury reporting to the public.”
“Thankfully the voters – who have been basically voting with their feet for years – they got to go to the ballot and vote with their hearts and their minds,” said Christine Dorchak, President and CEO of the greyhound rescue organization Grey2K USA.
“Our polling showed that if voters were educated about the humane aspects of greyhound racing and the economic problems, they would vote for the dogs,” Dorchak says. “Even in the Pensacola area the vote was well over 60 percent. So even the areas surrounding tracks, people understood the right thing to do was to vote for the dogs.”
Racing could have continued at Pensacola Greyhound Track until December 31, 2020. The track's fall greyhound racing season ended September 30, and racing was scheduled to resume last month, but didn’t.
And Pensacola wasn’t the only one to pull the plug.
“We’re very grateful to the several tracks – including Pensacola – that decided that they would just never race again,” says Dorchak. What we’re expecting for the remaining eight tracks would be a phase-out. We’ll probably see one more season from half of the tracks, and then the remaining tracks will go all the way to the end.”
All of the greyhounds that raced at the Pensacola track are said to be "in good care.” A local greyhound adoption agency previously estimated around 300 Pensacola dogs would need permanent homes.
“We’re really seeing what we envisioned as coming true: that greyhounds will become available on a rolling basis,” said Dorchak. “Adoption groups will absorb them and really, it’s the happiest moment ever for greyhounds. We’re delighted at the outcome of the election.”
Magi Williams, the media liaison for the track’s parent firm Wind Creek, was not available for comment. In an email, she said there “wasn’t really much to talk about anyway.”
Grey2K USA’s Christine Dorchak says the tracks are now in the position to make the right economic decisions for their futures.
“Re-creating their business and offering long-standing better jobs to the folks who once were dog handlers; now they can do other jobs at the facility, as the facility grows,” Dorchak says. “It’s really a happy ending -- a win-win-win for the taxpayers; the workers, and for, of course, the dogs.”
Meanwhile, the firm PCI Gaming will continue at a separate Pensacola-area facility with live simulcast horse racing and poker -- which are still allowed at the state’s 12 dog tracks.
But in Pensacola, the fake rabbit used to lure the dogs down the track -- has gone the way of the Model-T and the Navy Hellcat.