Southland Gaming proposed today an end to greyhound racing at the racetrack and casino in West Memphis, a development predicted here a few weeks ago.
Steve Lancaster, attorney for Southland, told the state Racing Commission the track would end racing by Dec. 31, 2022, with a gradual reduction in racing in the intervening years to accommodate the shutdown of kennels and, for example, place greyhounds.
The Racing Commission approved the proposal without dissent or objection.
Lancaster explained that only six states still allow dog racing and a recent vote by Florida, a major center of greyhound racing, was another signal that the industry was dying. He noted voters approved the ban in Florida overwhelmingly and he said independent polling said such a proposal would win approval in Arkansas. Approving a phase-out would be a better alternative than a sudden closure required by a vote.
The track has been in business since 1956 and the attendance and betting has dropped over the years. The track got a fresh life with “electronic games of skill,” the electronic equivalent of most casino games. Amendment 100, approved last year, provided that both Southland and Oaklawn, the horse track in Hot Springs, could qualify for full casino licenses going forward and both have announced major expansions as a result. Southland handled more than $3 billion in casino betting last year.
Lancaster said the track wanted assurances that ending greyhound racing wouldn’t affect its casino operation. Racing commissioners expressed support for the phase-out. Lancaster said Southland was committed to finding casino-related jobs for anyone who might lose a job working in the racing end of the business.
Southland said it had an agreement with the greyhound owners. But it was kept confidential. Lancaster said the additional money for purse funds coming from casino taxes would mean bigger purses in the final years of racing. He would not disclose what payments will be made to the kennel owners in the agreement, but payments apparently are contemplated.
Robbie Wills, a lobbyist and lawyer, spoke for the 16 kennels that have contracts to race at Southland and which are parties to the agreement. He and Lancaster said the confidential agreement included provisions for proper care of dogs in adoption and permanent homes.
Bill Stovall, another former legislator and lobbyist for the greyhound kennels, said greyhound racing was an uncertain industry “and what you have in front of you today brings certainty.”
A kennel operator said that after what happened in Florida, ” now was the time to make a decision.” He said the 16 kennels are committed to stay through 2022 at Southland.
The existing tax on casino gambling produced $33 million for greyhound purses in the year ending June 30, a year in which a total of only $16 million was wagered on dog races.
Lancaster said that Southland wanted to be regulated like any other casino, referring to the Saracen casino in Pine Bluff and another one allowed in Pope County, once racing ended. When racing ended, Lancaster said Southland no longer would claim the 40 percent of total state taxes directed to purse funds. In West Virginia, where greyhound racing continues, legislators have pushed to have the windfall from casino gambling taxes go to education and other public services.
A racing commissioner said Amendment 100 appeared drafted with the possibility that racing could cease at either Southland or Oaklawn. Southland needed to only have a license as of December 2017 to qualify for a casino permit.
No mention was made of the humane group that has led the campaign to end greyhound racing. It was gearing up to come to Arkansas if necessary to prevent Southland from continuing to race dogs.
Here’s a release from Southland, owned by Delaware North, which largely restates what the commission heard this morning. It notes that the track had begun talking to kennel owners about the future because their existing contracts expire at the end of this year.
The news was cheered by opponents of dog racing.
“Today, racing industry representatives announced that they have reached an agreement to end greyhound racing in Arkansas by December 31, 2022. There is currently one operational dog track in the state, Southland Greyhound Park.This announcement is a victory for everyone who cares about dogs. According to the Arkansas Racing Commission, 1,361 greyhound injuries have been reported at Southland over the last decade, including 828 dogs that suffered broken bones and 42 greyhounds that died.It’s now clear that greyhound racing will end completely in the United States. Today’s development will leave only a handful of states where commercial dog racing still exists. Last November, Florida citizens overwhelmingly voted to phase out greyhound racing at twelve racetracks, in a decisive vote of 69% to 31%.The greyhound debate will now turn to West Virginia, where lawmakers will vote on whether to end $15 million in annual subsidies for dog racing. Unless the legislature acts, West Virginia will soon become the last state that sanctions and subsidizes an industry that is cruel and inhumane.”
Animal Wellness Action, a national organization promoting legal standards against cruelty, applauded an announcement made today by key stakeholders that live greyhound racing will end in Arkansas, one of the last states to stage this archaic form of animal competition. The agreement, approved by the state racing commission, promises to end dog racing by 2022.
“We applaud Southland and its parent company Delaware North for getting this deal over the finish line,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. AWA and the Center for a Humane Economy, working with Grey2K USA Worldwide, have been urging the Buffalo-based gambling and food service company that owns Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, Ark. to develop a plan to end racing. “This is a short phase-out, and it’s good for dogs and for Southland and its reputation.”
Commercial dog racing is illegal in 41 states, and less than a year ago, Florida voters approved Amendment 13 to phase out the practice there by the end of 2020. Already, 5 of the 12 tracks in the state have been shuttered since the landslide vote last December.
Outside of Florida, there are a handful of tracks operating in the U.S. with tracks in Alabama, Iowa, and Texas barely hanging on. Delaware North owns two tracks in West Virginia, and the agreement in Arkansas should be an indicator that the company wants out of this business in order to emphasize other gaming activities.
“It is our hope that Delaware North works out a similar agreement with greyhound breeders and other key stakeholders in West Virginia,” added Pacelle. “West Virginia does not want to be the last place in the United States with regular racing that put greyhounds at risk.”
Most tracks don’t make money, but gambling interests that own the tracks are being obligated by the states to subsidize the operations and to require that the tracks run dogs even when it’s a money-loser. The states shouldn’t force businesses to conduct operations that they don’t want to do and that lose money.
At the few tracks that remain, the dogs often perform in front of nearly empty arenas. As this industry continues to wither, animal welfare concerns will become even more pressing because of threadbare operations that will be forced to cut corners in animal care to survive. The industry has proven that it is incapable of changing. Instead of cleaning up their act, it has fought reform efforts. Dogs play an important role in our lives, and they deserve to be protected from unpopular spectacles that put them at risk.