End to greyhound racing in sightby Dara Kam | April 29th, 2011
Dog tracks would no longer have to run dog races but could continue to operate the more lucrative card rooms under a measure passed by the Senate and awaiting secondary House approval.
Sen. Maria Sachs, the bill sponsor, said the bill is needed so the state can stop bailing out the dying greyhound racing industry while keeping the tracks alive.
Palm Beach Kennel Club owners support the measure in part because fewer races will make their dog races more valuable when broadcast over simulcast at other tracks. Only three of the state’s existing 16 dog tracks, including PBKC, are expected to continue to keep running the dogs if the bill becomes law.
The measure would also benefit PBKC because it is one of the seven tracks that now purchase tax credits from other tracks who are eligible for the tax breaks but don’t generate enough revenue to use them.
Critics of the measure include the dog owners and breeders, who claim that doing away with the races will put thousands of workers out of a job.
But Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said the state would no longer have to subsidize “a business model that’s no longer profitable” through tax breaks as public interest in the races – and revenues from them – decline. Revenues generated for the state from dog racing have plummeted by more than half over the past 10 years, from about $40 million in 2000 to about $5.2 million last year.
The measure created a stir on the floor as some Republicans tried to amend the bill to accommodate the state’s thoroghbred industry.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, alleged that senators seeking to file the amendments were “were intimidated out of them.”
Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, a former lobbyist who three years ago represented the Jacksonville Kennel Club, which opposed the amendments, disagreed, saying he didn’t want to bring up amendments that had not been previously heard.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, arms crossed and frowning at the podium, was not pleased by the exchange.
“If you want to continue to debate we will stay here as long as people want to continue to debate,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said. “We’re going to move this bill out of here today because I think we should focus on other bills.”
Left to defend her bill before the vote, Sachs reminded her colleagues that “it’s a dog bill pure and simple. Started as a dog bill and I want it to end as a dog bill.”
The Senate passed the House’s bill (HB 1145) by a 25-14 but made one change before sending it back for another vote. The Senate version would phase in changes to the tax credits tracks get for running the races over five years.