As debate regarding the industry rages on, a proposed constitutional amendment could put the decision on the future of greyhound racing – and, by extension, live poker – in the hands of the voters of Florida.
Florida’s greyhound racing industry has for decades been a major draw for gamblers – and for the Florida government, a bonanza of tax revenues – but it has fallen on hard times of late. Deaths of racing greyhounds, drugging issues and other grievous injuries to the animals have been a part of the bad news that has affected those in the business. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to put different constitutional issues on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections, is considering putting a resolution up that would let the voters have the power of whether to shut the lucrative but under siege industry down or not.
“This is, for me, a matter of conscience,” commission member and state Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who is sponsoring the proposal, stated to the Florida Times-Union’s Jim Saunders. “Our society has changed. We are evolving as a people. We are becoming more sensitive to those who occupy this world with us, regardless of their species, and to those who are going to follow us for generations to come. And that’s a good thing.”
The General Provisions Committee decided on Thursday to put the potential resolution in front of the entire Executive Committee. Called Proposal 67, the resolution would ban greyhound racing effective December 31, 2019. According to Saunders, the original plan was for the ban to be slowly phased in with an effective date of July 21, but the General Provisions Committee moved up the date. “We should do this as quickly as we feasibly can,” commission member Brecht Heuchan said to Saunders.
There is a lengthy history of greyhound racing in Florida, dating back to the 1930s. With the advent of horse racing and, to some extent, casino gaming, the greyhound racing industry has had difficulties. That was changed when, in the mid-2000s, the greyhound and horse racing tracks could start offering live poker at severely restricted limits.
Within time, poker became a major part of the greyhound tracks. In 2010, the restrictions on poker were lifted and the industry exploded, bringing many of the major poker tours to the state. Cash games, once limited to just limit games, became plentiful and lucrative at the greyhound tracks. But there has always been one problem with the linking of poker to the greyhound tracks.
By state law, the only way that a greyhound track can offer a poker room is if they offer a significant racing schedule and pari-mutuel betting. There have been discussions for several years about separating the greyhound tracks and the poker rooms, but they have been unable to separate the two industries. If Proposal 67 were first to get on the ballot in 2018 and then be voted through by 60% of the citizenry of Florida, there would be significant issues because of the linkage.
If the Florida Legislature had to decouple the racetracks from the poker rooms, they would have to revise their gaming laws. That has been extremely problematic for legislators in the state, who also must contend with the powerful Seminole Indian tribe and their sovereign rights to casino gaming in the Sunshine State. It is unknown what path would have to be taken to get the poker rooms to be able to stand alone from the racetracks, especially if the Seminoles objected to gaming being offered in a free-standing situation (something that breaks the gaming compact the tribe has with the state).
The proposed constitutional amendment isn’t necessarily looking at gambling or poker being offered at the tracks. Many of the members of the constitutional committee are more concerned with the perceived issues that have plagued the racing industries for years. As Lee stated to Saunders, “As we’ve evolved, we’ve banned all sorts of activities that have been considered cruel to animals: bullfighting and cockfighting and all kinds of things. To me, this is just the next step on that plane of becoming more sensitive to this kind of inhumanity.”