Doping scandal adds to reputational issues for greyhound racing industry 

By on July 7, 2017 with 8 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In Florida, the hub of a withering U.S. greyhound racing industry, regulators identified 12 greyhounds with cocaine in their blood at the Bestbet Orange Park near Jacksonville, according to The Washington Post and First Coast News. One trainer, Charles McClellan, handled all of the dogs, an incriminating fact pattern. Cocaine is just one of many drugs discovered in racing dogs, and this illegal substance is apparently administrated as a stimulant by cheaters within the industry.

While there’s definitely a way to juice the dogs – even if it’s illegal and underhanded — there’s little the industry has been able to do of late to juice up the sport. It’s been in steep decline, and nobody in the industry really thinks that this trajectory is reversible. Twenty-five years ago, there were more than 60 tracks in the United States with a handle of $3.5 billion, while today, greyhounds run on sand at only 19 tracks, and the handle is only $500 million. Florida is the industry’s last bastion with 12 tracks, including the Jacksonville facility.

The unusual circumstance of the current moment is that dogs typically run in front of empty, or near empty, bleachers at these 19 tracks. The base of fans interested in watching a pack of dogs chasing a mechanical lure around the short oval, in a mad-dash sprint that lasts only about 30 seconds, is small and shrinking.

How do businesses with so few patrons continue to operate?

One answer is they cannot operate well, and that’s why we’ve seen dozens of tracks shuttered. That trend has been aided by animal advocacy groups, led by GREY2K USA, that have helped ban the sport in 40 jurisdictions.

The surviving tracks are not standing on their own two, or four, feet. Rather, state and casino-gaming interests are the reason the tracks remain open, even as the base of spectators recedes.

Florida requires that the dog tracks run a minimum number of days. And casino-gaming interests pay the freight.

Casino gaming companies expanded into more communities in the United States with their games of chance (e.g., blackjack, slots, and other conventional forms of gambling) by developing relationships with dog- and horse-racing tracks. In return for the establishment of gambling in new markets, the casinos promised to subsidize the racing. The tracks were foresighted and went to state legislators to require a minimum number of race days, so that breeders and other players within the industries could continue to operate.

Horse racing remains a viable industry and sport, although it has its own doping problems (The HSUS and The Jockey Club are collaborating on federal legislation to end doping and put the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in charge of a regulatory program to clean the sport of non-therapeutic drugs). But almost everybody agrees that there’s no saving greyhound racing.

The question is, how long will these 19 tracks operate, and what’s the pathway to phase them out?

The first step is to decouple casino gambling and racing. End the required race days.

It’s time for the casinos and the animal advocacy groups to join together to unwind greyhound racing in an orderly way and to protect the dogs. When that’s achieved, we’ll have stopped the doping. Stopped the on-track injuries. And stopped the flood of retired greyhounds into the adoption pipeline, denying other needy animals safe havens.

When it comes to greyhound racing, the market should be allowed to work, and government should be part of the solution rather than the enabler of a problematic industry. It’s been propping up a declining sport for too long. It’s time for serious-minded people to get together and head toward the exits.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Stephanie Monza says:

    Do you know Scotty Devins?
    Many years ago she started save the greyhounds & was very passionate about the issue . The last I knew she was living in Vermont can you tell me anything about her now ?

    • Jinji Willingham says:

      Scotti Devens, found of Save the Greyhound Dogs, begun in 1990 (or 1991), now 90 years old and in ill health, is my mother. She has been passionate about educating people about the cruelty involved in greyhound racing, had Howard Dean sign The Gator Bill – making greyhound racing illegal in Vermont, and has worked diligently for decades to stop greyhound racing. She is still a resident of VT.

  2. Debbie Ladig says:

    I’d personally would love to see the Greyhound racing industry shutdown.

  3. Robynne Catheron says:

    While I am appreciative of the efforts to stop the doping of greyhounds and horses, I stand by my convictions that any and all forms of animal racing is cruel exploitation, made even more cruel by the use of drugs, underage animals, and slaughter. Just because dogs and horses CAN race doesn’t mean they SHOULD race. It’s driven by human greed, pure and simple.

  4. Fred Barton says:

    It is naive to think that any amount of regulation will stop the chemical, emotional and physical abuse of greyhounds trapped in the racing gulag. As long as innocent living creatures are turned into commodities and used for profit they will be needlessly killed and injured, especially as the industry dies and the money pie shrinks so more people are chasing fewer dollars with the lives and welfare of the dogs.

    I am a Board member of GREY2K USA Worldwide, an organization that fights to save these marvelous creatures all over the globe. (you can learn more about us here: I have fostered and adopted rescued racing greyhounds since 1995. I cannot imagine abandoning any of them when they become injured, old or sick and yet this is routinely what happens to them at operating tracks.
    Fred Barton
    Board Member
    GREY2K USA Worldwide

  5. Lynne says:

    These beautiful animals deserve a happy live not running for losers

  6. Ed meyer says:

    I find it offensive that you attack the greyhound industry but allow horse racing to continue unabated. You think your helping the dogs but you are doing the dogs and adoption agencies a great disfavor when all the tracks shut down and you have your way the availability of dogs will dry up thus killing the breed .greyhound have many illnesses bred in and developed .but blaming kennels and owners for letting them do what the dogs do ,they love to run is stupid and cruel. Why don’t you use all of your donations to help instead of lieing and tearing greyhound racing you bigots.

  7. Ed meyer says:

    That wasn’t a personal attack unless you take it personal, thus showing how unprofessional you are meyer

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