Decoupled from public notion – Harness Racing Replace

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Classes from Florida greyhound racing’s demise and what it would imply for harness racing within the state.

by Melissa Keith

Florida greyhound racing lastly caught the lure on Dec. 31, 2020, only a yr and three months shy of its centennial. The Miami Kennel Membership held its first races March 1, 1922, earlier than Florida turned the primary state to legalize pari-mutuel greyhound racing in 1931. Seventeen Sunshine State canine tracks have been working by 1962. Though it remained a well-liked American wagering and spectator sport into the Nineteen Nineties, drawing an all-time-high nation-wide deal with of $3.5 billion in 1991, greyhound racing got here beneath growing scrutiny. The Folks for Moral Therapy of Animals (PETA) was based in March 1980; the animal rights group lists greyhound racing alongside bullfighting, cockfighting, rodeos, and looking within the “merciless sports activities” part of its web site.

Racing itself was conflated with merciless practices to which some canine have been subjected: prolonged confinement to cages; coaching with dwell animals as lures; overt abuse and neglect; inhumane killing of puppies and canine unsuited to competitors. None of this was a part of greyhound racing, per se; it was far faraway from the stewardship suggestions of the American Greyhound Council (AGC). That group was based in 1987 by the Nationwide Greyhound Affiliation (NGA), representing breeders and kennel operators, and the American Greyhound Monitor Operators Affiliation (AGTOA), with an expressed mandate to “make sure the welfare of racing greyhounds on the farm, on the monitor and upon retirement.”

In November 2018, a bipartisan majority (69 per cent) of Floridian voters backed a ban on greyhound racing. Modification 13 had wanted a 60 per cent majority to go. The Information Service of Florida quoted Chief U.S. District Choose Mark Walker’s choice:

“By means of Modification 13, Florida has prohibited plaintiffs’ property [i.e. racetracks] from being utilized in a specific method that the state has decided to be opposite to the well being, morals, or security of the group. […] Whether or not Modification 13′s function was to guard the well being and welfare of racing canine or to ban wagering on canine races, Modification 13 is a professional train of Florida’s police energy [regarding animal control and gambling regulation].”

A subsequent problem by business contributors and a bunch named Help Working Animals Inc. was filed in federal courtroom in Might 2020. It alleged that greyhound business contributors have been “singled out for a deprivation of their rights primarily based on political animus.” Choose Walker dismissed the go well with final June. Help Working Animals took the case to the U.S. District Court docket of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in July, with out success.

What does this should do with harness racing?

Whereas Florida is a well-liked winter coaching vacation spot for standardbreds, Isle On line casino at Pompano Park is the one pari-mutuel harness monitor within the state. It’s the final of 4 harness tracks to have operated in Florida. Tropical Park in Miami, Ponce De Leon Raceway in Bayard, and Azalea Driving Park/Seminole Park in Casselberry are lengthy gone. Ponce de Leon Raceway’s ultimate incarnation was as St. Johns Greyhound Park; Azalea Driving Park turned Seminole Park after which Seminole Greyhound Park. Tropical Park first opened because the South Miami Kennel Membership in Coral Gables, switching to harness racing in 1967 and shutting in 1972. The “new” Pompano Park opened for pari-mutuel harness racing in 1964, after a decade of existence as a coaching centre. An earlier one-mile monitor existed on the positioning in 1926, however rapidly closed because of a then-statewide ban on pari-mutuel wagering.

At present, a confluence of things — rising land values; stagnant or declining pari-mutuel deal with; shifting tastes within the ever-expanding playing/leisure market; rising recognition of the animal rights motion — has led on to rising help for decoupling on line casino video games from dwell racing.

Within the September 2015 situation of The Florida Horse journal, decoupling was demystified by Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and House owners Affiliation (FTBOA) CEO/government vp Lonny T. Powell: “In a nutshell, decoupling means a race monitor in Florida would have the choice of dropping all or most of its dwell racing whereas nonetheless protecting (or increasing) its slots and poker site services and looking for authorization for future gaming merchandise from the Florida Legislature.” In a public assertion in 2017, Florida Standardbred Breeders and House owners Affiliation (FSBOA) president Joe Pennacchio likened decoupling to “a most cancers cell” that may injury the broader racing business if ever allowed to take maintain in Florida.

For years, it has been rumored that every season could be the final on the Winter Capital of Harness Racing. Eldorado Resorts has owned Isle On line casino at Pompano Park since 2016. In 2018, the corporate issued a media launch about its plans (with Cordish Corporations) to redevelop the positioning into “Dwell! Pompano Resort,” which might change harness racing with pari-mutuel jai alai. Eldorado merged with Caesars Leisure in 2019, which didn’t change the plans for redeveloping the monitor. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the method, and in addition led to an permitted modification that may see industrial/warehouse area change workplaces within the proposal.

All racetracks are weak: Gulfstream Park West (previously Calder Race Course) performed its ultimate card of thoroughbred racing on Nov. 28, 2020. In Might 2019, the South Florida racino had been permitted for pari-mutuel jai alai, which allowed proprietor Churchill Downs Inc. to proceed to supply authorized on line casino gaming with out racing. PETA is a shareholder in Churchill Downs Inc., and final yr bought shares in 4 different firms that personal U.S. racetracks: VICI Properties, Boyd Gaming Company, Penn Nationwide Gaming, and Gaming and Leisure Properties.

The tip of racing at Gulfstream Park West echoed the damaging message of the state ban on greyhound tracks: Eliminating horse or canine racing, with its related prices and infrastructure, not solely freed up actual property; it additionally freed gaming firms from controversies about animal rights and welfare.

Regardless of these current modifications to racing within the Sunshine State, Pompano has began 2021 robust. On Jan. 6, monitor announcer and Caesars Leisure director of racing Gabe Prewitt tweeted: “Again to again $1M nights for the primary time within the historical past of Pompano Park! Over $1.3M final night time and over $1.1M tonight! THANK YOU to all of our gamers for storming the swimming pools!” On Jan. 5, he had taken to social media to advertise “the most important assured pool in Pompano historical past tonight, fueled by a $28k carryover within the 50c Decide 5 starting in Race 1.”

However deal with isn’t essentially the important thing to protecting a racetrack alive. Not anyplace, not anymore. Not when public and political help is maybe the extra highly effective affect in the case of land use and playing.

Florida Beginner Driving Membership president Dein Spriggs mentioned that he didn’t assume greyhound racing had the next that harness racing has within the state. When the final canine tracks closed, “they have been just about ready for that to occur. It simply type of fizzled out, so far as greyhounds go in Florida. The ultimate night time right here in Palm Seaside County was at Palm Seaside Kennel Membership. You actually didn’t hear an excessive amount of about it. It was type of quiet, aside from they’d an enormous night time there.”

The USTA director and previous president of the FSBOA famous that “Palm Seaside Kennel Membership saved proper on rolling” at the same time as different venues closed their doorways, however finally greyhound racing “went to a referendum of the folks, and the folks knocked it out.”

Beginner driving golf equipment have gone the additional mile to advertise harness racing as a superb company citizen, though racino homeowners don’t all the time return the favour. “I can let you know what we do, with the [Florida] amateurs,” Spriggs advised HRU. “We convey folks in which have by no means, ever been to the racetrack of their life. They don’t know what’s occurring. They’ve by no means seen it.” He mentioned that membership members take satisfaction in spreading the nice phrase about their sport: “Quite a lot of the amateurs, that’s what they do. Their purpose is to herald new folks. They’ve an out of doors life; a lot of the [professional] horsemen, they dwell and breathe horses, they’re there each single day, and don’t have time or see exterior of the horse circles. Quite a lot of the amateurs, they’re into different companies, so they create their associates over for the races and present them what’s occurring.”

The Florida Beginner Driving Membership additionally builds group goodwill by means of its dedication to fundraising for good causes. “We’ve given some huge cash to charity,” mentioned Spriggs. “Considered one of our large issues is we do a ‘Miller-Tetrick Professional-Am’. We’ve executed it for the final 5 years. Dave Miller and Tim Tetrick come down, and we’ll donate to a few completely different charities. Tetrick may have three guys on his crew, and Miller have three or 4 on his crew, and we’ll race three or 4 races, and we generate {dollars} for various charities.” Final March, Crew Tetrick received the title, and every crew introduced a test for $4,000 to its respective sponsored charity, the Make-A-Want Basis (Crew Miller) and New Vocations (Crew Tetrick).

The membership’s generosity doesn’t cease there. “We’ve got different charities that we donate to, within the meantime,” mentioned Spriggs. “Mainly, we put our 5 per cent driving charges in a pool, and we choose charities occasionally, and we donate within the winner’s circle. So we [amateur drivers] don’t maintain any of our charges; each greenback goes to charity.” Pompano winner’s circle displays typically imply horses and drivers posing with representatives from charitable organizations. “Some folks are available in there who didn’t even find out about [harness racing], and so they adore it! They’re amazed. They’ve a good time, and we make them part of it,” mentioned the membership president, who’s a two-time Nationwide Beginner Driver of the 12 months. Included as a not-for-profit in 2010, the FADC has raised over $200,000 for numerous charities.

Additionally working to the benefit of harness racing’s public picture is the standardbred itself.

The a lot higher prevalence of breakdowns in thoroughbred and greyhound racing have made these industries targets for anti-racing foyer teams, mentioned Spriggs. “Our horses are very sturdy; they don’t break down hardly in any respect. It’s not even shut. It’s such a unique state of affairs, completely.” The anti-racing motion has nonetheless gained momentum in an period when racinos not often counteract its messaging by promoting their very own dwell product. “In case you uncover the horse racing, you probably did it by yourself or somebody introduced you there,” mentioned Spriggs.

Land redevelopment and decoupling in favor of jai alai are probably the most urgent priorities for Florida’s one pari-mutuel harness venue. Spriggs mentioned he doesn’t assume harness racing is going through the type of public opposition that contributed to the demise of greyhound racing within the state: “Look, if any person spends some huge cash and so they put the fallacious type of press on the market, something can occur. However the greyhound [industry] had lots of unfavorable issues occurring, in order that was simply completely completely different. You had PETA going towards them; all people was going towards them. Now, is PETA our buddy? No, not likely. They don’t like several type of animal racing. They might moderately see folks pulling folks. They wish to remove thoroughbreds, harness racing, something that’s animals.”

Greyhound racing’s poor public picture and diminishing deal with performed into one another in Florida, leaving few defenders towards decoupling. After a number of canine competing at Florida’s Bestbet Orange Park examined optimistic for cocaine in 2016, it was dubbed “the most important greyhound drug case in American historical past” by an anti-greyhound racing group, Grey2K USA. In 2017, a state senator remarked that “it makes little sense to require beneath regulation an exercise that nobody needs to observe and many individuals think about inhumane.” In the long run, there might be no restoration for Florida’s greyhound tracks. Solely 4 states — Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, and West Virginia — nonetheless conduct canine racing; Southland Greyhound Park, the one venue in Arkansas, is phasing it out by December, 2022.

Pompano races on, its future undetermined, however at the very least not decided by public opposition emanating from anti-racing teams. “Of their minds, we’re subsequent,” mentioned Spriggs. “However don’t know if we’re at that juncture but. I don’t see that, in the intervening time.”



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