The poker world is quite aware that 2014 Poker Hall of Fame inductee Daniel Negreanu is one of the most opinionated players in the game. He consistently challenges his fans, followers and opponents to critically think about many diverse issues, sometimes resulting in a polarizing opinion of the Canadian professional. His latest issue is with one of the casino properties he has visited and its treatment of animals.
Negreanu, a known vegan and supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), recently penned a letter to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort Senior Vice President and General Manager Brooks Robinson regarding an animal display on the property. The letter, released by PETA on Tuesday, is in regards to the Cherokee Bear Zoo, less than a mile away from Harrah’s Cherokee, and is urging Robinson to use his leverage with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (who operate both the casino and the zoo) to have the “bear pits” closed and move the bears to a “reputable sanctuary.”
“I’m writing you today not just as a poker player but also as someone who cares deeply about the well-being of animals,” Negreanu starts his letter as he explains the plight of the animals in the Cherokee Bear Zoo. “These bears are kept in horrendous conditions in barren concrete pits that prevent them from engaging in virtually any type of natural behavior…bears in the wild explore home ranges of up to thousands of miles and are active for up to 18 hours a day, roaming, foraging and exploring. Bears at the Cherokee Bear Zoo are confined to barren concrete pits in which they spend much of their time pacing back and forth and spinning in circles, signs of profound depression.”
Negreanu goes on to list other physical issues that might face the bears, including ulcers and arthritis from walking on the concrete instead of natural conditions. “It seems to me that Harrah’s can only benefit from the retirement of these bears, since tourists would no longer be diverted away from the casino – so this would be a win-win situation!,” Negreanu writes. “Harrah’s influence could make all the difference for these bears who have been denied everything for so long. Please, help us to help them.”
The Cherokee Bear Zoo and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have had a difficult history, including allegations of mistreatment of the very animals on the property. In 2013, federal regulators shut down another Cherokee Indian park, Chief Saunooke Bear Zoo, which also fell under the Eastern Band’s jurisdiction, due to gross mistreatment of the animals. Clandestine video showed the bears gnawing at the bars of their enclosures to the point where their teeth would snap off and proper feeding and medical treatment was allegedly not provided. At that time the owner of the Cherokee Bear Zoo, Collette Coggins, claimed that they took care of their animals “better than some people take care of their children,” but admitted they could do more as to the well-being of the grizzlies.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has entertained discussion of building a new sanctuary for the bears on several occasions over the past couple of years, but those discussions have been tabled every time. The tribe has also come under fire from petition drives from groups other than PETA that have come up short of their signature goals and have fallen flat after initial drive from those activists has waned.
In the case of the closure of the Chief Saunooke Bear Zoo, the 11 bears that were seized by federal authorities were released on a 50 acre sanctuary in Texas. PETA released a video in 2013 following the move of the bears from North Carolina, demonstrating the vastly different conditions from which they came to which they would continue on with their lives.
Whether Negreanu’s efforts will help the PETA drive regarding the Cherokee Bear Zoo residents isn’t known. Negreanu has millions of fans worldwide and it is possible the heat from those fans may force some action. If anything else, it is a continued demonstration how Daniel Negreanu tries to use his celebrity for philanthropic purposes.