Magic City is allowed to replace greyhound racing with jai alai––a precedent for “decoupling” animal racing from gambling permits
MIAMI, Florida––The Magic City casino in West Flagler, Florida, after more than 13 years of legal struggle, is soon to become the first Florida betting venue to be allowed to abandon animal racing while continuing to hold gambling permits.
In place of greyhound races, run at the Magic City site since 1932, Magic City will offer betting on jai alai.
Jai alai will lose money more slowly
A Basque version of handball also following greyhound racing and horse racing into oblivion, jai alai is now played as a professional gambling or spectator sport at only six U.S. locations, and like live racing is expected to lose money, but less money than would be lost if greyhound racing continued.
“Pari-mutuels in Florida usually are required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games that make those facilities more money,” explained Florida Politics writer Jim Rosica. “A move afoot called ‘decoupling,’ removing the live racing requirement, has failed in the state legislature in recent years, including this past session.”
Dog & horse racing industries run scared
But the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, located within Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, is allowing Magic City casino owners Izzy Havenick and family to “decouple” under a legal interpretation that the greyhound racing and horse racing industries fear might sink them––at least in Florida, where the land that race tracks occupy tends to be worth a lot more than the revenue generated from betting on the races. Twelve of the 19 greyhound tracks remaining in the U.S. are located in Florida.
Wrote News Service of Florida reporter Dara Kam, “The Magic City decision is rooted in a 1980 Florida law that allows the pari-mutuels [greyhound and horse tracks] in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that have the lowest betting handle for two consecutive years to convert to summer jai alai permits. But if those pari-mutuels do not seek conversion, other facilities can seek the permits. Lawyer John Lockwood first sought the summer jai alai permit for Magic City in 2011.
Magic City won in court
“After much legal wrangling,” Kam continued, “the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering denied the track’s request to do away with dog races, launch jai alai games and keep lucrative slots that the track began operating after voters signed off on the machines in 2004. But the 3rd District Court of Appeal ordered gambling regulators to reconsider the issue.”
Upon reconsideration, Kam finished, the regulators agreed that “Florida law gives the track the green light to do away with dog races, as long as the jai alai matches take place at the same facility.”
“The jai alai fronton is going to take up significantly less space than the greyhound track,” Lockwood told Kam, “so this frees up Magic City to develop its property.”
Industry pledges to fight
Pledged Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association lobbyist Jack Cory, “We will challenge this decision in the courts, up to the Supreme Court of Florida.”
Said Izzy Havenick, to GamblingCompliance writer Nicholaus Garcia, “We always had a tremendous fear that animal rights groups were going to try to ban dog racing in the state of Florida,” following the example of 40 other states where greyhound racing is already illegal. “We always made sure that if something happened outside of our control,” Havenick said, “we could protect the business.”
The Havenick family is now expected to pursue a similar strategy to try to get out of greyhound racing at another track they own, Bonita Springs in Naples.
More smokers than bettors
The West Flagler track opened soon after Florida in 1931 became the first state to specifically allow greyhound racing, after other states including California had closed greyhound tracks for violating anti-gambling laws.
The Havenick family acquired the West Flagler track in 1953, but had long hoped to find a way out of greyhound racing.
“On a good day we can have 100 people on the stands, and they are mostly smokers who come out from the casino floor,” Havenick told Fernando Peinado of Associated Press in 2014.
As of 2014, betting on Florida greyhound races had fallen 75% in 25 years.
“The races have become a never-watched sideshow to the profitable poker rooms and slot machines,” Peinado wrote. “Dog racing’s troubles also could be a preview of things to come for
the horse racing industry, which in some states has identical laws tying it to casino gambling.”
Betting on horse racing has fallen by about a third, nationally, since 2000.
Dogs go faster with coke?
Adding to the image issues that have helped to drive down interest in greyhound racing, “At least 12 greyhound racing dogs in Florida have tested positive for cocaine,” widely believed to stimulate greyhounds to run faster, “and trainer Charles McClellan has had his license suspended,” reported Tamara Lush of Associated Press on June 30, 2017.
“It’s at least the second instance this year of racing greyhounds testing positive for cocaine,” Lush said. “The dogs raced at Bestbet Orange Park in northeast Florida near Jacksonville.
“Records show Florida’s greyhound industry has had 62 cocaine positives since 2008.”
Added Jeanne Blaylock and Meilin Tompkins of WTLV-TV in Jacksonville, “First Coast News obtained records from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. They show at least 12 dogs in the care of McClellan tested positive for cocaine, for a total of 18 cases in four months.”
McClellan was previously fined for illegally administering drugs to greyhounds in June 2011 and March 2012.
“McClellan is not the only trainer cited for the presence of cocaine in race dogs at Bestbet Orange Park,” Blaylock and Tompkins said. “Five other trainers were cited for cocaine metabolites in dogs between 2010 to 2016,” including Natasha L Nemeth, who had one dog test positive in October 2016, and four more test positive in May 2017.
The latest cocaine scandal blew up six weeks after one racing greyhound died and 72 others became ill at the Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club after having been fed a stew of boiled rice, macaroni, and “4-D” meat, meaning meat from dead, dying, diseased or disabled livestock, deemed unfit for human consumption.
Recalled Mike DeForest of WKMG-TV in Orlando, “In 2014, two greyhounds died and 97 others became ill at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club after eating food that contained raw ‘4-D’ meat.”
Feeding “4-D” meat to dogs is legal throughout the U.S., and “4-D” meat has long been used in commercially manufactured dog food, but is usually cooked by the dog food industry at very high temperatures to kill any pathogens it may contain.
Industry sues against county regulation
Also in May 2017 a coalition of greyhound owners and breeders sued Seminole County, Florida for adopting an ordinance requiring them to report dog injuries to the county.
“The ordinance, approved by the County Commission in August 2016, also requires trainers to provide information about what happens to dogs after they stop racing at the track and mandates that the dogs be licensed by the county. County officials must also inspect the dogs’ kennels,” reported Dara Kam for the News Service of Florida.
“The lawsuit alleges,” Kam continued, “that the Seminole ordinance violates a statewide prohibition on local governments regulating the pari-mutuel industry. The ordinance took effect March 1, 2017.”
Racing has a year to run in Canberra
Greyhound racing is to end by July 1, 2018 in the Australian Capital Territory, including the national capital city of Canberra, and is struggling to continue in New South Wales.
“The Australian Capital Territory ban was announced after an independent report highlighted concerns over animal welfare,” explained Elise Scott of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The report, by former health services commissioner Mary Durkin, found that of more than 27,000 animals who were raced in Canberra, more than 320 dogs sustained minor to catastrophic injuries. 26 dogs were euthanized due to injury at the racetrack in the five years from 2012 to 2016.”
Trainers celebrated “reform movement” with drug binge
Former New South Wales prime minister Mike Baird in July 2016 announced his intention to ban greyhound racing, but reversed himself in October 2016 after the greyhound industry pledged to initiate reform, then resigned in January 2017.
The reform program got off to a rocky start, reported Christopher Knaus of The Guardian on June 20, 2017, with 20 trainers “charged and convicted of offenses involving prohibited substances since mid-October 2016,” according to stewards’ reports show.
“In one case,” wrote Knaus, “trainer Sonia Kempshall was fined $750 after three of her dogs were found with arsenic in their system. Those dogs have collectively won more than $60,000 in prize money.”
Suspended sentence for use of live lures
The Durkin report found no evidence of widespread use of live lures in training Australian racing greyhounds, but Tom Noble, 69, a Queensland trainer who was caught using brush possums, piglets, and rabbits as live bait for greyhounds, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of cruelty in September 2016, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
The sentence was then wholly suspended for five years, “due to serious health issues and his role as carer for his severely ill wife,” said the Brisbane Times. The Queensland crown prosecutor appealed the sentence, but lost the appeal in May 2017.
Trainer took dog in rigor mortis to vet
Almost simultaneously, reported the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a Baulkham Hills greyhound trainer who was not named “pleaded guilty in Parramatta Local Court to aggravated animal cruelty and failure to provide veterinary treatment over the death of his severely emaciated female brindle greyhound named Milkshake,” even though the Royal SPCA found that “Milkshake was severely emaciated, with severe dental disease and advanced kidney disease, and had died from avoidable causes after being starved and denied veterinary care.
“The court heard that on June 5, 2016,” the Daily Telegraph recounted, “the unidentified trainer phoned the Quakers Hill Veterinary Clinic after hours number stating that his dog was dying and he wanted to have her euthanized.
On arrival at the clinic, the greyhound known as Milkshake was found dead in the rear seat of the car in an advanced state of rigor mortis.”
Despite that performance, the court allowed the trainer to keep a second greyhound, who has been judicially recognized as dangerous.
Last track in China to close in July 2018
Australian greyhounds who fail to win races have often been exported to the Canidrome in Macau, the only dog track in China. But Canidrome Co., the operators of the track, confirmed on June 28, 2017 that in compliance with a government order to relocate or close, it will close by July 2018.
The Macau Canidrome opened in 1930, two years after the Shanghai Canidrome introduced greyhound racing to China.
Closed by the Communist Party in 1949, the Shanghai Canidrome was later used for rallies and public mass executions. Most of the Shanghai site was demolished in 2005 for redevelopment, but the Macau track struggled on for another dozen years.
Took “slow” dogs from Australia
Greyhound Racing Australasia prohibited greyhound exports to Macau in 2013 because Macau, a former Portuguese colony, does not meet Australian animal welfare standards. The ban was supported by major airlines, including Qantas and Cathay Pacific, which refused to fly greyhounds to Macau.
Nonetheless, Greyhound Racing New South Wales in June 2016 charged 179 Australian “industry participants” for allegedly illegally exporting greyhounds to Macau in defiance of the prohibitions.
Campaigning to close the Canidrome since March 2012, ANIMA Macau president and founder Albano Martins thanked Animals Australia, the Animals Asia Foundation, and the Asia for Animals Coalition for stalwart help, also thanked many organizations who joined the effort later, and asked for continued activist help in trying to persuade the Canidrome management to rehome as many as 650 greyhounds who are still kenneled on the grounds.
Greyhounds vs. cheetahs
Greyhounds are also raced, without betting, at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, where about 40 dogs run daily 100-metre exhibition sprints against cheetahs.
“At one stage in their lives,” wrote Eamonn Duff for the Sydney Morning Herald on May 28, 2017, “these Australian greyhounds were the toast of their owners and were earmarked as future kings and queens of the track.
“The Shanghai Wildlife Animal Park is no stranger to controversy,” Duff continued. “It is infamous for staging ‘animal Olympics’ featuring up to 40 ‘sports’ such as bear bicycle races, dog hurdling, a gorilla on a balance beam and basketball between elephants. An ‘Olympic bicycle race’ between a bear and two monkeys ended in horror,” in 2013, “after the bear collided with one of the primates and proceeded to eat it in front of a packed arena.”
In 2015, Duff added, “Animals Australia aired claims from locals that once the dogs were injured and of no further use, they were fed live to the park’s predators, such as big cats.”
Irish dogs sold to Pakistan & Argentina
Greyhounds who were no longer winning races were also formerly exported to China from Ireland, but in recent years Irish breeders have found bigger markets in Pakistan and Argentina, even though neither nation has welcomed greyhound racing, Wayne O’Connor and Mark O’Regan of the Sunday Independent reported on May 14, 2017.
“As greyhound racing is illegal in Argentina, there are no animal welfare standards to be adhered to once the dogs arrive there,” O’Connor and O’Regan wrote. “Pakistan, where videos have emerged online of greyhounds being abused at meets, has very limited protection for animals.”
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