Another state is getting out of the dog racing business. Southland Gaming, which operates the only greyhound racing facility in Arkansas, announced a phase out of operations at the West Memphis racetrack and casino by the end of 2022. The Arkansas state Racing Commission approved the shutdown.
Arkansas becomes the latest state to get out of the business. The biggest setback for the sport came last November when Florida voters decided overwhelmingly (69 percent to 31 percent) to end greyhound racing at the state’s 11 tracks by 2021.
Greyhound racing is dying, and fast. The number of tracks has declined from more than 50 in the 1980’s to just a handful today.
After the closings, there will be only five tracks left in the country—one each in Iowa, Alabama and Texas and two in West Virginia, at Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes and Wheeling Island Hotel Casino and Racetrack.
Notably, Delaware North owns Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island. Delaware North also owns the Arkansas track that cut the deal with breeders to phase out the greyhounds.
Gamblers have many more options today with casinos and, now, legalized sports betting. Also, public opinion has turned against dog racing, in part because of the efforts of the anti-greyhound racing organization GREY2K
“It’s now clear that greyhound racing will end completely in the United States,” said GREY2K executive director Carey Theil. “The greyhound debate will now turn to West Virginia, where lawmakers will vote on whether to end $15 million in annual subsidies for dog racing.”
GREY2K has a strong ally in Senate President Mitch Carmichael. The Jackson County Republican recently called for an end to dog racing. “This is an industry that has come and gone,” Carmichael said on MetroNews Talkline. “It makes no sense for the taxpayers of this state to subsidize what amounts to, in my view, an inhumane activity.”
The greyhound breeders and their supporters argue that the $15 million is not a subsidy, but rather a share of the casino profits dog racing was promised when slots were introduced at the tracks. That’s a semantic debate, but they are right that the pitch for slots and table games included the argument that proceeds would help sustain the greyhound racing industry.
That’s why, in fairness, the breeders are entitled to a soft landing, a phase out or buy out so they are not tossed off a financial cliff. Surely the legislature can work that out here, just as Florida and Arkansas have done.
The greyhound breeders will argue dog racing has a substantial economic impact. Ohio County Senator Shawn Fluharty said the Wheeling track supports 1,700 jobs. Well, if that’s the case, communities and investors would be falling over themselves to build more dog tracks.
There is simply no denying that greyhound racing’s days are numbered, and without the subsidy, dog racing would end within a few months. West Virginia should make a fair offer to the breeders, GREY2K should organize an aggressive adoption effort for the dogs, and let’s move on.