The fate of greyhound racing in Florida hangs on the outcome of a November ballot measure that will ask voters if they would like to outlaw the sport. It has been a long and contentious battle to even get to this point, but the Florida Supreme Court finally ruled last week that Amendment 13 may appear on the November ballot.
Amendment 13 will ask voters if they support ending the sport of greyhound racing in Florida. Yes votes will support the ban and no votes will support allowing greyhound racing to continue. If Amendment 13 passes, Florida racetracks will not be shut down entirely; they will still be permitted to offer other forms of gaming and to take wagers on greyhound races held in other states.
Now that the measure has been approved to appear on the ballot, the battle is on to win the hearts and minds of registered voters in Florida who have the fate of greyhound racing in their hands. Groups on both sides of the issue have taken to releasing advertisements, writing op-eds, coopting allies and slamming one another in the media.
Central themes of the debate so far have tended to involve the treatment of greyhounds in Florida. While the Humane Society argues the greyhound racing industry is full of neglect, abuse and abandonment, industry advocates claim the dogs are treated well and live happy lives even after their racing careers come to an end.
One of the more minor points of contention not related to the welfare of the animals involved has to do with racing handle, or the total amount bet on races each year at Florida’s eleven remaining greyhound tracks.
On this point, the Humane Society and other greyhound racing opponents argue that the sport is in a state of serious decline and provides no benefit to the state economy. In fact, the main Florida group opposed to greyhound racing claims the sport actually costs taxpayers more than it brings in via revenue.
Racing proponents argue exactly the opposite – they claim greyhound racing is an important part of the state economy and supports thousands of jobs. The two sides have submitted numbers purporting to back up their points, but both have come to opposite conclusions. It’s hard telling where the truth lies, but here’s what each side says about the Florida greyhound industry.
Florida Greyhound Racing Betting Handle
According to greyhound opponents, an industry report submitted to the legislature in 2013 concluded that total greyhound betting handle experienced a 67% decline between 1990 and 2012 after falling from $933.8 million in 1990 to $265.4 million in 2012.
More recently, the Committee to Protect Dogs claimed total racing revenue has fallen by 74% and that state revenue from racing has fallen by 98% since 1990. The Committee to Protect Dogs claims that Florida dog tracks lost a combined $34.8 million on racing and that the sport now costs the state somewhere between $1 million and $1.3 million per year due to regulatory costs exceeding revenues.
Protect Dogs argues that greyhound racing is unnecessary and is actually forced upon racetracks due to an old mandate requiring tracks to run a minimum number of live races so they can offer more lucrative forms of gambling. The argument goes that if it wasn’t for the state forcing racetracks to hold races, the industry would have died out years ago.
Greyhound racing proponents say those numbers are misleading. In a piece published on FloridaPolitics.com, the Committee to Support Greyhounds digs into the numbers behind a recent news item pushed by Protect Dogs and found that betting handle is actually significantly higher than claimed by Protect Dogs.
According to the piece, Protect Dogs is “hiding the ball by intentionally omitting monies wagered via advanced deposit wagering (ADW)” in order to downplay the importance of greyhound racing to the local economy.
That’s a serious allegation, but the author of the piece claims to have the numbers backing the claim. The full article goes into greater detail, but the cliffs notes version is that a report prepared by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and referenced by Protect Dogs failed to take into account ADW (online and phone betting) handle.
For instance, the DBPR report reported total betting handle of $39,829,574 at the greyhound track in Jacksonville. When pro-greyhound groups reviewed actual results sheets from that track, they found total reported betting handle of more than $90 million after taking into account ADW wagering – a difference of more than $51 million.
In all, the piece published at FloridaPolitics.com claims more than $200 million in betting handle was omitted at just three tracks alone. The article claims its numbers were “exactingly researched with clearly supported numbers and tools that are available to the public” and that “it is not a ‘random spreadsheet’ as anti-racing activists have now claimed.”
By way of evidence, the article links to a spreadsheet compiled by someone simply named as “Mr. Dick Ciampa.” I did some research myself and found that Florida racetracks do indeed publish total betting handle on their results sheets. For example, you can see one results sheet from Orange Park at Bestbet Jacksonville shows handle of $231,453 for an evening’s worth of races.
Verifying the numbers presented by the Committee to Support Greyhounds would be a monumental task, but the information is indeed out there as the group claims. In the end, however, it probably doesn’t matter all that much what the true numbers are.
Greyhound racing opponents have successfully framed the Amendment 13 debate as a referendum on the treatment of animals to put pro-racing groups on the defensive.
When one side campaigns heavily with ads that tug at the heartstrings like this:
And the other side attempts to reframe the argument in terms of economics with spreadsheets that look like this:
What you end up with is an uphill battle for pro-racing groups.
Early polls released over the summer (some funded by opposition groups) indicate voters favor banning greyhound racing. If it wasn’t for the fact that constitutional amendments in Florida require a 60% vote to pass, I’d be ready to call this a done deal and recommend greyhound operators get an early start on packing their bags.
The 60% threshold needed for a constitutional amendment gives pro-racing groups some breathing room. They are fighting a well-funded, well-organized opponent, but they do have the high ground in terms of votes needed to keep the status quo.