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Friday, December 09, 2022

Greyhound racing nears its end in America after a long slide

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DUBAI, Iowa – Vera Rasnake laughed as she led a trio of barking dogs at Iowa Greyhound Park, but her smile faded when she admitted that after 41 years of being around greasy animals, her game was on the verge of extinction .

Following the end of a truncated season in Dubuque in May, the track will be closed here. By the end of the year, only two tracks will be left in the country.

“It’s very hard for me to watch,” Rasnake said.

It’s been a long slide for greyhound racing, which reached its peak in the 1980s when there were more than 50 tracks in 19 states. Since then, the explosion of gambling options, as well as growing concerns about how dogs are treated, have killed off the game that gained wide appeal almost a century ago.

A racing association found that betting on Greyhounds fell from $3.5 billion in 1991 to nearly $500 million in 2014. Since then, many more tracks have been closed.

In some states, like Florida’s dog-racing mecca in 2021, it was voter initiatives that put an end to the sport at the state’s dozen tracks. In others, such as Iowa, state officials allowed casinos to end subsidies that had kept greyhound racing alive as interest declined.

“Do I think the industry is dying? Yes,” said Gwyneth Anne Thayer, who has written History of Greyhound Racing. But “it’s happening faster than I thought.”

With the Dubuque track closing and the end of racing in West Memphis, Arkansas, this December would leave racing only in West Virginia, where the tracks near Wheeling and Charleston are operated with subsidies from casino revenue.

For some animal welfare groups, the collapse of the industry is the culmination of decades of work publicizing allegations of greyhound abuse. The group GREY2K was formed in 2001 and the organization’s executive director, Kerry Thiel, said they feel a sense of accomplishment now that the end of the game is within reach.

“This has become one of the signature animal welfare debates of our time,” Thiel said.

GREY2K, the Humane Society and other groups have long argued that greyhound racing was cruel, including its longstanding practice of killing dogs that were not considered top racers, using drugs to enhance their performance, Keeping them confined for long periods of time and putting the animals at risk of causing injury on the racetrack.

Industry supporters note that there is a huge demand for adoption of retired wrestlers now and deny that other problems are widespread. He also argues that some people do not understand the Greyhound’s love of running.

On opening day at Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque, spectators packed into a spacious room that overlooked the track, sipping beer and mixed drinks as they looked at racing figures before placing bets at kiosks or with attendants. gave. He expressed disappointment that the track would be closed, lamenting the loss of an entertainment option in Dubuque, a city of about 60,000 known for its stately brick buildings and church stairs built on hillsides overlooking the Mississippi River. goes.

Peggy Janiszewski and her friend Robin Hannan have been driving from the Chicago area to Dubuk for nearly three hours watching racing for years. They usually only bet a few dollars on each race, but are more interested in watching the dogs than in counting their winnings.

“They are beautiful. Like works of art,” said Janiszewski.

Bruce Kruger said he was driving 170 miles (274 kilometers) from Milwaukee to Dubuque. He does not believe that dogs are abused.

“I know some trainers, and they treat them like kings and queens,” Krueger said.

General Manager Brian Carpenter was 16 when he began working at the track in its second year and had 36 seasons until its final year.

He recalls the excitement when the track opened in 1985, a time when Iowa was mired in agricultural bankruptcy and much of Dubuque was struggling. At the time, thousands of people attended the race with gamblers’ buses from Chicago and Milwaukee every weekend.

“It was an exciting time and the track offered good jobs,” he said.

At least 1,000 people attended earlier this year, but fewer crowds are typical, especially on weekdays.

Dubuque Track was helped by city and state funding, and after Iowa and other states allowed casinos, the Dubuque operation expanded to include its own casinos.

Thayer’s book, “Going to the Dogs – Greyhound Racing, Animal Activism, and American Popular Culture,” describes the sport with a colorful and often turbulent history. Following the development of mechanical lures from the early 1920s – typically a stuffed bone or stuffed animal that moves rapidly around the track ahead of dogs to attract them – the industry allowed state-by-state legalized betting. Was constantly pushing to give and to attract attention with the help of Hollywood celebrities, athletes and beauty pageant contestants.

At times, the sport attracted more spectators than its more prominent rival horse racing. Thayer said it was considered seedy by some, but it had been mainstream entertainment for decades.

“People don’t realize how common this was in American culture for a long time,” she said.

Greyhound racing is also held in other countries including Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico and Vietnam, but it is facing some of the same problems that appear in the US.

Steve Sarras, president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association, said although greyhound racing in the US would be limited to West Virginia only, he is intent on keeping the state sport. The state’s two tracks run races five days a year.

Sarras said that West Virginia legislators made repeated visits to his kennel and others to inspect the conditions, and eventually he was convinced that the dogs were well behaved.

“When you first see it, you can’t fake how happy the dog is,” he said.

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Follow Scott McFetridge on Twitter: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge

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