The Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Ban Greyhound Racing in Florida: The Time Is Now.

AuthorParker, Ryan S.
PositionAnimal Law

Once every 20 years, Florida convenes a Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to review and propose amendments to the Florida Constitution. (1) The CRC process is the essence of participant democracy to change the law through constitutional means. The CRC also provides an avenue that allows ordinary citizens to address important issues that have proved difficult or impossible to address through legislative means. The Animal Law Section of The Florida Bar (ALS) supports the proposed amendment to ban greyhound racing for a number of reasons, which are more fully discussed below. (2) In recent years, states across the country have shut down tracks and/ or passed legislation prohibiting commercial greyhound racing. (3) Yet, Florida remains the epicenter of the industry, with 12 of the 18 remaining tracks in the United States. (4)

Racing dogs at Florida's tracks are confined for long periods of time and suffer frequent injuries, neglect, and death. Further, aside from the well-documented negative impact on the animals, the current state of the law in Florida comes at a significant financial cost. The law requires tracks to hold dog races in order to be entitled to offer other types of more popular gambling. This comes at a huge cost to taxpayers and the tracks, which lose money on racing. According to an independent study commissioned by the Florida Legislature, the state is losing between $1 million and $3.3 million annually because the regulatory costs associated with greyhound racing exceed the amount of revenue it generates. (5) This article discusses the proposed constitutional amendment to end greyhound racing in Florida; controversial aspects of the industry that have led to the proposal; the legislative framework that has kept the industry alive; efforts to decouple greyhound racing from other forms of gambling; and why the issue is appropriately addressed in a constitutional amendment.

Background of the Proposed Amendment

On October 31, 2017, Florida Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, filed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida. (6) Senator Lee was one of 37 members of the 2017-2018 CRC. A minimum of 22 commissioners must vote in favor of a measure for it to be placed on the ballot. (7) On April 16, 2018, the CRC voted 27-10 in favor of placing the proposed amendment on the ballot. (8) After initially voting to "couple" the greyhound amendment with other initiatives, including a ban on offshore oil drilling and a ban on public vaping, the CRC agreed to approve the greyhound amendment as a stand-alone measure.

As of this writing, however, the Second Circuit ruled to strike the amendment from the November ballot, finding that the ballot language was "misleadling." (9) That decision will be appealed. Hopefully, the measure will be placed back on the ballot and the people of Florida will have the opportunity to vote on the proposal. If the measure is placed on the ballot and it is approved by at least 60 percent of voters, the amendment would become part of our constitution (10) and greyhound racing would be banned effective December 31, 2020. (11)

Greyhound Racing in Florida

Greyhound racing has been a part of Florida's history for nearly 100 years. The first Florida greyhound track was built in 1922 in an area that eventually became Hialeah. (12) Thereafter, tracks were established in St. Petersburg in 1925, Miami in 1926, Sanford-Orlando in 1927, Miami Beach in 1927, another in Miami in 1930, and in Tampa in 1932. (13) In 1931, Florida became the first state to legalize wagering on greyhound races. (14) By the year 1932, there were six different tracks in operation that netted nearly $8 million in sales and $333,429.05 in state revenue. (15) Today, Florida is one of only six states with active dog racing tracks. (16) With 12 tracks in operation, Florida has more than any other state in the country. (17)

In recent years, greyhound racing has been a source of controversy in Florida. It has been the subject of countless news stories, articles, and proposed and enacted legislation. There are multiple animal welfare groups in Florida, and elsewhere, that advocate for ending the sport. Kate MacFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and leading animal welfare advocate, stated the following with respect to greyhound racing in Florida:

Greyhound protection and phasing out greyhound racing altogether are priorities for the HSUS in the Sunshine State. We work closely with GREY2K USA and countless other humane groups to put an end to greyhound racing and also push for industry reforms to help protect the dogs while they continue to race on the [12] tracks in Florida. (18)

Some of the more controversial aspects of the industry include the dogs' living conditions, incidents of neglect, the quality of their food, the use of steroids and other illicit drugs to increase performance, and the number of dogs that suffer injuries and/or death.

Racing greyhounds are confined in small cages for long periods of time. The minimum size requirement for their crates is "two feet wide, three feet long, and 32 inches high." (19) Florida does not have any regulations in place regarding the amount of turnout time each greyhound must have per day. (20) Therefore, it is difficult to determine exactly how much time the dogs spend in their crates. A former trainer from another state estimated that greyhounds receive less than three hours of turn-out time daily, resulting in more than 20 hours per day of confinement. (21) Though there is no statistical data available regarding turn-out time in Florida, an investigator from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, estimated that greyhounds are normally confined between 20 and 23 hours per day. (22)

Over the years, there have been several instances of alleged neglect involving racing greyhounds in Florida. For instance, in 2014 a trainer's license was suspended after an investigation revealed that dogs in his care were living in unclean conditions and without adequate bedding. (23) In 2013, a trainer was fined after an adoption supervisor reported that dogs she received from the trainer were in poor condition and infested with ticks. (24) In 2010, a kennel that houses racing greyhounds was investigated after employees reported that it was far below acceptable standards. (25) The investigator found four full buckets of dog feces in the turn-out pen area, and noted a strong smell of ammonia in the kennel, indicating...

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