69ºF

Melbourne Greyhound Park could lose up to $250,000 per year

Floridians vote to ban dog racing

MELBOURNE, Fla. – In a worst-case scenario, Tuesday's passage of Amendment 13 could cost Melbourne Greyhound Park up to $250,000 in annual revenues, said Jim O'Brien, president and chief executive officer.

Amendment 13 will prohibit dog racing and wagering in Florida by 2020. Bettors will continue to legally bet on dog races in other states after the ban takes effect.

"I wasn't surprised. The advocates for the dogs and how they're ostensibly treated, I get. I understand. I don't totally agree with it, but I wasn't surprised," said O'Brien, whose family owns four dogs.

"Live racing is not a financial profit center for us. However, the revenues we receive from our constituents who play other dog tracks around the state is a pretty decent number," he told News 6 partner Florida Today.

Statewide, 69 percent of Florida voters opted to end dog racing. Brevard County approved Amendment 13 by a landslide margin of 71.6 percent (197,544 votes), unofficial results show. "No" votes comprised 28.4 percent of the county total, or 78,399 votes.

Melbourne Greyhound Park spends more than $200,000 annually on dog racing operations, O'Brien said. Up to 250 greyhounds stay in the facility's kennels, where there are races eight times a day, six days a week.

On the flip side, O'Brien said simulcast betting on Florida's 10 other dog tracks generates roughly $500,000 a year. After the ban takes effect, he said some of these customers may start betting on out-of-state dog races, perhaps decreasing annual fiscal losses to $175,000 to $200,000.

O'Brien said 30 to 40 seasonal dog-racing jobs are in jeopardy. He will explore hosting outdoor events at the track and grandstand.

"We're going to be fine, business as usual. We're going to be fine. It's better to win — but it's not the end of the world," O'Brien said.

Tallahassee lawmakers had balked at "decoupling" legislation, which would have dropped Florida's requirement that greyhound tracks conduct races on-site in order to offer more lucrative card games and slot machines.

GREY2K USA Worldwide successfully pushed to place Amendment 13 on Tuesday's ballot. Based in Arlington, Massachusetts, the nonprofit bills itself as the world's largest greyhound protection organization.

"It was a sweeping victory. Absolutely historic. It's one of the largest margins of victory for an animal-protection ballot question in American history," said Carey Theil, GREY2K USA Worldwide executive director.

"To win in such an overwhelming way in every part of the state is just phenomenal. It's across party lines. It's across gender lines, across geography. I think it's a repudiation of the industry, and I think it's an incredible victory for everyone in the state who cares about dogs," he said.

Looking ahead, Theil said his group will provide assistance to help Florida's nearly 4,000 racing greyhounds transition into loving homes.

O'Brien said he visits the Melbourne Greyhound Park kennels at least twice a week.

"We keep them clean. The dogs are walked three times a day. The track is safe. It's manicured. We've spent a lot of money on it," O'Brien said.

A fading business, dog racing is legal and operational today in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia.

"There was a fight 15 or 20 years ago over the end of cockfighting. Cockfighting was still legal in three states: Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Ending it in those three states was a tough fight," Theil said.

"I think you'll see probably an endgame in these final states that's similar to the final fight over cockfighting," he said.