Greyhound law has run its course

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By The Gazette Editorial Board


State legislators should revise a law that requires live greyhound racing at two Iowa racetrack casinos.

They failed to act last session on the request of one owner to be released from that legal requirement to hold a minimum number of racing days and subsidize purses for race winners. The company, and the estimated 1,300 Iowans who make or supplement their living raising or racing greyhounds, deserve to know where they stand during the 2011 session.

Greyhound breeders and trainers can’t turn their investments around on a dime — they need time to plan if greyhound racing is on its way out.

That’s the likely outcome if legislators release racetrack casinos in Council Bluffs and in Dubuque from their legal obligations to supplement purses awarded to winning greyhounds.

Those purses are negotiated by the businesses and the Iowa Greyhound Association and costs casino owners, according to one recent estimate, about $10 million a year.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., which owns the Council Bluffs casino, commissioned a study, released last spring, which found that about $140 million in slot and table revenues had gone to subsidize greyhound racing purses in Iowa from 1995 to 2008.

In that time, annual wagers plummeted from $41.6 million to $2 million at Dubuque’s track. At Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, the total dived from $122.4 million in 1986 to just $5.2 million in 2008.

It’s part of a national decline and a clear sign that greyhound racing’s day is rapidly approaching its end in Iowa.

Last spring, Harrah’s offered to give the state $7 million a year if legislators would cut them loose from greyhound racing.

Des Moines-based attorney Jim Carney, who represents Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., told us this week that Harrah’s is “absolutely” still interested in jettisoning the requirements.

But he said he’s not sure what, if anything, the company will be willing to offer this year to sweeten the deal.

The pari-mutuel and casino gambling industry in Iowa is largely rooted in greyhound racing. But things change. It doesn’t makes sense anymore to require artificial financial supports for dog racing. Legislators should end the requirement in the least-painful way for Iowans who depend on the greyhound industry for their livelihood.

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