A controversial sport with a long history in South Florida soon will be no more.
On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 13 to the Florida constitution, which will phase out dog racing by 2020. The ban received 69 percent of the vote; it needed 60 percent to pass.
The vote will end dog racing at Florida's 11 greyhound tracks, including two in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Just six active greyhound racing tracks in five U.S. states will remain.
"This is the most historic event for greyhound advocacy and adoption in the world at any time," said Christine Dorchak, President and General Counsel of advocacy group GREY2K USA Worldwide and a drafter of the amendment. "I can't overstate that. This organization has been working for nearly 20 years to reach this moment where Florida voters would vote down the cruelty of dog racing, now it's sending a signal around the world that it's time to end dog racing."
The sport was a substantial source of gaming revenue for operators, comprising 25 percent of Florida's total pari-mutuel revenue in fiscal year 2016-2017. But the $2.2 million in taxes and fees that went to state coffers in 2016-2017 from dog racing represented a 22-percent year-over-year decline.
Those revenues came at a cost. According to Florida's Department of Business and Regulation, more than 460 dogs have died at tracks since 2013, the first year the state began collecting such information.
Miami's Magic City Casino held its final dog race in June. The Havenick family, which runs Magic City and still operates a greyhound racing facility in Naples, said dog racing would continue at that facility until the conclusion of its 2020 season. This year's racing season will kick off as scheduled on Dec. 23, 2018, and run through May 4, 2019.
"After that, our family owned business will transition to new entertainment options for the community as we work with local leaders and area residents to continue to deliver for them," the family said in a statement.
A representative for The Big Easy Casino (formerly Mardi Gras Casino) in Hallandale Beach, which continues to operate a track, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For the Palm Beach Kennel Club, passage of the amendment will cause a dramatic shift in business. Theresa Hume, a spokesperson for the club, said it gets 50 percent of its annual revenues from its dog racing operation, which has been active since 1932.
"We will do everything in our power to protect our employee's jobs," Hume said in a statement. "With regards to the greyhounds, we have over two years to go and we plan to proceed with our current racing schedule."
The kennel club's dog operations were the result of the state requiring some facilities to maintain live racing as a prerequisite for running slots and table games.
Greyhound racing in Florida was born in Hialeah in the 1920s; by 1930, Miami-Dade had at least three dog racing tracks, including one in Miami Beach. In 1946, Florida track owners formed the American Greyhound Track Owners Association, and would eventually invite other operators around the country to join. But just four years later, the U.S. Senate began investigating organized crime's infiltration of the sport.
The sport continued to thrive in South Florida through the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and was famously featured in the opening montage of "Miami Vice."
But the sport became a victim of the broader decline in live wagering and protests from animal rights activists. Over the past two decades, five states that previously allowed the sport banned it. Other tracks shut down in four additional states without formal legislation ending it.
For John Parker, president of Southeastern Greyhound Adoption, an organization that supports greyhound racing on the belief that it boosts the profile of the animals, Florida's vote was ill-advised.
(Racing) is a win-win for them," he said. "They spend the first part of their lives enjoying racing, and the rest in the loving arms of their adopted parents. It's kind of a shame that all that's going to be diminished."
Parker said the "jury is still out" on what Florida's vote could mean for the remaining states operating greyhound tracks. It is now unclear whether enough greyhounds can be bred to sustain the sport, he said.
"It's a blow to American racing," he said.
Opponents of the ban warned hundreds of greyhounds will now have to be adopted. But Michelle Weaver, vice president of Sunrise-based Friends of Greyhounds, an adoption agency, said most animals will eventually find homes, or otherwise be taken care of.
"We've got a year to handle it, we've been preparing for it," she said. "Everyone knows it's been a possibility, and adoption groups around the country have been waiting."
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