Legislature advances bill to end dog racing

Iowa greyhound associations, casinos set to meet

An Iowa House panel this morning advanced legislation to provide a $70 million “soft landing” for the greyhound industry, but lawmakers are hoping a Thursday meeting between the industry and casinos will resolve differences over ending dog racing in Iowa.

“That’s what every legislator wants,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Bellevue, who represents a district with about a dozen operations where dogs are bred and trained. Moore didn’t sign off on House File 2406 because he doesn’t want the full Ways and Means Committee to take up the bill Thursday and he doesn’t want casinos to have an advantage in the meeting with the greyhound association.

“I hope they work something out,” he said.

That might be the best the dog owners and kennel operators can hope for, according to Don Avenson, a former lawmaker lobbying for the Iowa Greyhound Association. The bill would end live racing at pari-mutuel tracks in Dubuque and Council Bluffs as well as simulcast wagering. Under HF 2406, the casino industry would provide a $70 million package to compensate breeders, kennels and track employees.

“I know what’s going to happen here today,” Avenson told the three-member subcommittee, “but I hope the General Assembly pauses long enough to see if an agreement can be reached.”

Avenson doesn’t understand why lawmakers are rushing to help casinos -- an industry “built on false dreams and glitter.”

Unlike Iowa dog owners and kennel operators, casinos spend little money in Iowa, Avenson said. Casinos, he said, merely ship money to Las Vegas. That makes him wonder why lawmakers are willing to kill greyhound racing.

No one is trying to kill the industry, Jim Carney, a lobbyist for Caesars Entertainment Operating Company, Inc., in Council Bluffs, said.

“Dog racing is dead,” he said. In Iowa, wagering is down by 97 percent since 1998.

“Another year and it will be down 100 percent or more,” he said. Wagering averages around $1,000 a race. “It’s a thing of the past.”

Proceeds from racing have fallen so much, said William Wimmer, lobbyist for Mystic Casino in Dubuque, that the distribution to the city and several northeast Iowa non-profit groups has fallen “significantly.

“At some point in the next couple of years there probably won’t be enough to distribute to non-profits,” he said.

A bill in the Senate would provide a $95 million payout over seven years and would allow the Iowa Greyhound Association to pursue a new “racino” to continue live dog racing at a licensed Iowa gaming facility. That idea may be up for discussion when the association meets with the casinos, Moore said. The association has some interest in renting and operating one of the current facilities to continue racing.


House File 2406 allows gaming establishments (licensees) that operate pari-mutuel dog racing to discontinue live and simulcast racing. It allows the licensee to continue operating other types of gambling games as well as the simulcast of horse racing. It creates a Live Racing Cessation Fee for the racetracks located in Dubuque and Pottawattamie counties as follows:

• Dubuque Racetrack (Mystique): Fees totaling $15 million paid over a six-year period that include $2.142 million paid at the time racing is discontinued and $2.143 million per year to be paid on July 1 over the following six years.

• Pottawattamie Racetrack (Bluffs Run): Fees totaling $55 million paid over a six-year period that include $7.852 million paid at the time racing is discontinued and $7.858 million per year to be paid on July 1 over the following six years.

This bill creates a Pari-Mutuel Racing Retirement Fund and transfers the following revenue sources to the fund:

• Funds remaining in the Dog Racing Promotion Fund (approximately $17,500)

• Live Racing Cessation Fee ($70.0 million over six years)

• The remaining balance of all dog purse supplement payments (balance unknown)

• Proceeds from the Greyhound Racing Escrow Fund (approximately $4.2 million)

The proceeds in the Pari-Mutuel Racing Retirement Fund are to be distributed to greyhound owners, breeders, kennel operators, any persons involved in Iowa greyhound racing, and no-kill animal adoption agencies. This bill establishes general guidelines for how the funds will be distributed to eligible recipients. It allows the commission to retain a portion of the funds to pay for a consultant to assist the commission with the development of a distribution plan.


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