Florida Bill Would Reduce Dog Racing Dates

A Florida bill could lead to a major reduction in live Greyhound racing dates.

The Florida House and Senate by wide margins have passed similar bills that would allow Greyhound tracks to stop racing or choose to significantly reduce racing schedules beginning July 1, 2011.

The main difference is over tax credits. The House bill would eliminate some racing-related credits for tracks that stop racing. The Senate bill would phase out those credits over five years and shift them to tracks that continue to race, and add them to existing credits.

The differences in the bills would need to be reconciled by midnight May 6. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is not commenting on whether he would sign the Greyhound bill, said a spokesman for his office.

If the bill becomes law, Magic City Casino in Miami and its affiliate, Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound in Bonita Springs, would continue to have live racing, said Isadore Havenick, a vice president of both tracks.

“But we would reduce our schedules,” he said. “We are now required to hold many more programs beyond the number for which there is demand.”

Havenick said that for the past several years both tracks have lost money on live racing but have been profitable with other forms of gaming.

“We are a dog track and we will keep racing,” said Havenick, whose family has owned and operated Magic City (formerly known as Flagler Greyhound) for three generations. Magic City will continue to send its signal to any Florida Greyhound tracks that stop racing, he said.

Dan Adkins, general manager of Mardi Gras Casino (formerly Hollywood Greyhound), said he has not decided whether the facility will continue to have live racing. The decision would be based partly on whether tax credits are available, he said.

Mardi Gras lost money on live racing last year but is profitable in other areas, Adkins said.

“We have the casino,” he said. “But if the bill doesn’t pass, some of the smaller tracks in other parts of the state might go out of business.”

Florida has had Greyhound racing since 1931.  For several decades the sport often attracted large crowds from a combination of local residents and tourists.

But those numbers have been declining since the 1990s amid the growth of pro team sports and other gaming around Florida. Data from the Florida DPMW show live handle at the state’s Greyhound tracks declined from $196 million in fiscal 2005-06 to $117 million in fiscal 2009-10.

Representatives of Greyhound tracks and of animal rights organizations have lobbied for passage of the bill.