Lawmakers Introduce Federal Legislation to Close the Curtain on a Century of Greyhound Racing in America

Congressmen Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., today introduced legislation to wind down greyhound racing in the United States, offering the prospect of the end of an animal-centered spectator sport that once annually put 40,000 dogs on American racing tracks, drew millions of fans who marveled at the explosive speed of the wisp-thin animals, and had hundreds of proud “dog men” who bred and trained the sighthounds for competition. The legislation is jointly backed by Animal Wellness Action and GREY2K USA.

The Cardenas-Cohen legislation comes in the wake of a startling investigation by GREY2K USA that exposed live-lure training in Oklahoma, Kansas, and  Texas, with “farms” training dogs by allowing them to tear apart rabbits to accustom them to chasing the mechanical lure used for racing. Industry leaders have denied anyone trains greyhounds by setting them on live animals for years, and the investigation shattered that false claim.

During its year-long investigation, GREY2K USA documented illegal greyhound training at breeding farms in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (the latter two states treat coursing as a crime).  According to an undercover investigator, trainers bred or trained more than 100 dogs at these live-lure facilities for transport back to states with commercial racetracks, mainly Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia.

Tracks falling like dominos

The bill also comes after a series of track closure announcements and political prohibitions on the activity in the United States.

In June, Texas’s last track became the most recent one to announce an end to live racing. Alabama’s lone track in Birmingham announced an end to live racing effective in April. And just months before, Arkansas’s Southland track in West Memphis — a stone’s throw from Rep. Cohen’s district centered across the river in Memphis, Tenn. — announced it will phase out operations over the next couple of years.

News of those shutdowns comes less than two years after Florida voters approved Amendment 13, which bans all live racing in the state by this coming December. Floridians approved the measure with well more than a two-to-one margin, even though it was the industry’s redoubt. Just prior to the launch of the ballot measure campaign — led by GREY2K USA and Animal Wellness Action and pivotally supported by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Lara Trump — Florida had 12 of the 18 operating tracks in the United States.

The Cardenas-Cohen bill — the first bill introduced in the Congress related to greyhound racing since Senators Bob Dole, R-Kans., and Birch Bayh, D-Ind. introduced anti-coursing legislation in the 1970s — seeks an end to all live greyhound racing, simulcasting of greyhound racing, and live-lure training in the United States. The phase-out of live racing and simulcasting would end by 2022.

It is exceedingly difficult and rare to close out any major animal-use industry. It hasn’t yet been accomplished with horrid and unpopular practices such as canned hunting or live pigeon shoots.  There’s been great progress in criminalizing horse soring and the use of wild animals in traveling circuses, but these practices persist.  Dogfighting and cockfighting are now illegal everywhere in the United States, but there is still a massive network of these criminal enterprises, as a series of Animal Wellness Action investigations have recently exposed.

A ban on greyhound racing would be far easier to enforce than fighting prohibitions. Racing requires a big stage, and it is unlikely that it can exist as an underground industry without that infrastructure and the massing of fans and wagers. Once the last tracks cease operations, that would likely mark the end of the sport.

In terms of closing out a national industry, the United States ended more than a century ago the plume trade, which involved hunters killing birds for their feathers for hat-making. More recently, in the 1970s, United States stopped commercial whaling in the 1970s, after more than 300 years of it. We have a larger federal statute forbidding any commercial slaughter of marine mammals for commerce. There’s a federal law against aerial hunting of native wildlife, but the government still conducts some aerial gunning and Alaska allows land-and-shoot hunting of some predators. In 2015 we put an end to invasive experiments on chimps, but other primates are subjected to painful experiments and ethologically miserable environments.

Delaware North in the spotlight

The Cardenas-Cohen legislation shines a light on one company: Delaware North, a Buffalo-based company with revenues in the billions built around gambling and food service. Delaware North was the key force behind the agreement to phase out racing in Arkansas. But it didn’t publicly engage in the debate when several state lawmakers pushed legislation earlier this year in West Virginia to end dog racing there.

But it’s hard to imagine, especially with this week’s revelations about major West Virginia greyhound industry leaders tied to live coursing, that Delaware North can remain on the sidelines for the debate about the future of racing in the United States. The humane issues are more apparent than ever, and now West Virginia stands alone as the only state without a definite timeline to end racing and Delaware North is the sole company involved in the racing business.

More than a decade ago, after I had led efforts to ban cockfighting in the final set of states that hadn’t banned it, I saw that Louisiana’s political and business leaders were embarrassed the state was the last one to allow these gladiator-type spectacles. Political leaders knew they had to join the mainstream and ban animal fighting, lest their state be viewed as a backwater.  The Jacobs family, which runs Delaware North, is too savvy not to understand that it must begin executing a short-term exit strategy.

West Virginia’s political leaders should start on banning greyhound racing tomorrow. So should Delaware North.  But if there are more machinations or staring at their shoes, there’s now a federal bill in the starting gate.

By one means or the other, the only greyhounds you’ll likely encounter in the years ahead will be pets running around a local dog park or curled up on couch.   

That’s one of the surest bets in American sports.

Please contact your federal lawmakers and urge them to cosponsor the Greyhound Protection Act.

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