Kansas legislators are considering a bill that would reintroduce greyhound racing eight years after the last tracks closed in the state. Talk about running backwards.
If this is what counts as economic development in Kansas, then the Sunflower State is in trouble. Greyhound racing is anything but an incubator of jobs or commerce.
This bill would try to revive a failed industry, one that’s withering in the very few places where it holds on. In fact, greyhound racing is illegal in 39 states. In Florida, which has more than half of the nation’s 19 remaining tracks, most track owners want out of the business of running dogs and instead want to continue their operations with more modern forms of gambling. The tracks in Florida now lose a total of $40 million a year on dog racing because wagering has declined by almost 100 percent in the last remaining big dog-racing state. West Virginia, which until this year subsidized the industry, has seen attendance levels drop by as much as 99 percent. Since 2001, more than two dozen dog tracks have closed all across the country and dog racing now represents less than one percent of all wagers placed each year in the United States.
There’s no real fan base for greyhound racing, there is an increasingly concerned public, and there are forms of gambling that are widely viewed as more entertaining and exciting.
Proponents of House Bill 2537 – the gaming industry, dog and horse breeders, and racers – are holding out the promise of economic development and prosperity to a state that’s been struggling mightily with its budget. But the reason greyhound racing ended in Kansas was simple: it wasn’t profitable. Very few people are interested. What makes lawmakers think that, in an era when people are more concerned about the welfare of animals than ever before, and have expressed their preference for other diversions, this sport can somehow flower? It’s a pipe dream.
There’s one reason that the issue is on the political agenda in Kansas: Phil Ruffin, a shrewd businessman and billionaire from Wichita who owns Treasure Island in Las Vegas and co-owns Trump International Tower with the widely known real estate magnate and presidential candidate. Ruffin has apparently hired a large pack of lobbyists and a public relations firm to get behind this initiative, advertised across the state as the “Race for Kansas” initiative.
According to figures obtained by greyhound protection group GREY2K USA, in the last six-month season of racing in Kansas, 80 dogs suffered broken legs and backs and other injures. A total of 19 dogs were killed. Since 2008, the year dog racing ended in Kansas, more than 12,000 greyhound injuries were reported in other states, including broken backs and legs, spinal cord paralysis, and death by cardiac arrest. Dog racing results in orthopedic fractures, painful muscular tears, fatal kidney damage, and other musculoskeletal injuries. And the injuries start well before the dogs ever get to the tracks. Thousands of animals suffer crippling osteoarthritis and debilitating chronic systemic conditions after racing.
We stand united against greyhound racing with our allies, including Rev. Doyle Pryor, who has seen firsthand the hidden costs of gambling. In Rev. Pryor’s remarks to the Kansas House appropriations committee, he explained that “the gaming industry’s profits are based on a relatively small number of addicted gamblers who run up huge costs to themselves, their families and society. While excessive gambling affects members of all social classes, its greatest social concern comes from its prevalence among poor economic groups.” This bill and initiatives like it seek to take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society.
This proposal is a bizarre throwback, and one man’s enthusiasm for an archaic form of entertainment cannot unwind the series of social and economic gains that have resulted in the inexorable downward drift of greyhound racing. The best thing is to wind down greyhound racing in a humane way, for all parties, in the states where it exists. Its resumption in Kansas or any other state is a fool’s errand. Let’s hope that Kansas lawmakers have the good sense to see the issue clearly.
P.S. There was good news from the capitol in Nebraska, today, where state lawmakers blocked the advance of a constitutional“right-to-farm” measure. We blocked a similar measure in West Virginia. I’ve written about our battle on the ballot this November in Oklahoma.