Dog racing phaseout deal OK'd by Senate

Betting on greyhounds fell to $5.9 million in 2012

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

DES MOINES — Fast-track legislation that would dramatically reduce the number of greyhound races in Iowa won near-unanimous approval Friday in the Iowa Senate.

A deal worked out among casino owners in Council Bluffs and Dubuque, Iowa Greyhound Association members and others would end greyhound racing in Council Bluffs by the end of 2015.

Under provisions of Senate File 2362, which passed by a 46-2 vote, the Dubuque track would finish this year’s racing season and then negotiate a lease arrangement with the greyhound industry to offer continuing dog racing in the future at that facility.

The casinos that finance dog races in Iowa would pay $72 million over the next seven years — with half going to pay greyhound owners and breeders who intend to get out of the business and the other $36 million to assist efforts to continue racing in Dubuque.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said the compromise — which has a total economic value of about $92 million — will provide a “soft landing” with the eventual ending of two-thirds of the dog racing taking place in Iowa and a “second chance” for those who want to keep dog races. An industry spokesman said there are about 300 greyhound owners in Iowa with about 50 farms and “20-some” kennels for dogs that race in Iowa.

“The economics of greyhound racing have changed in Iowa. The bill before you acknowledges that but also offers a thoughtful, responsible policy on how to change it to minimize some of the economic and emotional issues that are wrapped up in it,” Danielson said.

“It wasn’t easy, but I think it’s a worthwhile process and the bill before us is a good one,” he said.

Nationally, Iowa is one of only seven states that still have legal and operational greyhound tracks. It has been legal to bet on dog racing in Iowa since the mid-1980s. However, attendance and wagering at Iowa’s two tracks has fallen since 1991 when casino-style gambling was legalized on riverboats.

Combined betting on greyhound races in Dubuque and Council Bluffs has dropped from $186 million in 1986 to $5.9 million in 2012, a 97 percent decline, track officials say. Both dog tracks typically have only a scattering of fans in grandstands that once held thousands of patrons.

Iowa’s only other greyhound track, which operated in Waterloo, has been closed since 1994.

Sens. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, and Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, voted against the bill, which now goes to the House, where passage is expected.

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