DUBUQUE — If you provide races, people will come. Not actually in a physical sense right now, but an online sense.
And they will bet. Bet big.
The Iowa Greyhound Park is four days into its 104-performance, 2020 greyhound racing season, and the amount of money being wagered has been huge. A throwback to the good old days when the track first opened in 1985.
Opening night last Saturday night saw a track handle of $196,736, which was almost as much money as the track handled the entire month of May last year. Sunday afternoon was another $159,635 in bets.
This week has gotten off to an even better start, with $209,317 wagered on Wednesday night’s 15-race card. Thursday night’s handle was $177,453.
The track handle all last year was $6.4 million. At this early pace, it would be $19 million-plus this year.
“To be honest with you, I was just hoping for $80,000 on opening day,” said Brian Carpenter, Iowa Greyhound Park’s racing director and general manager. “We got to $3,000 away from $200,000 there, and I kind of wanted to pay somebody to make a $3,000 bet for us.”
The problem is Carpenter wouldn’t have been able to find anyone, at least not from Iowa. Per state law, Iowans are not able to gamble on races at IGP online.
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It’s only in person or via simulcast from another race track, such as Prairie Meadows in Des Moines. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed both facilities to fans.
Thus, that $743,143 wagered so far has come from everywhere except Iowa.
“They can’t say we don’t bring income in from outside the state, that’s for sure,” Carpenter said. “It’s probably the best handles we’ve had since the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. We’re pretty happy. Don’t get me wrong, we do miss our patrons. But we’re happy to be open. We’re glad to be on time (with the season). We’re on time, and everything is going good. The handles are great, but we really do miss having the patrons inside yelling and screaming and stuff like that. It seems pretty weird not having anybody there, being excited for the races.”
IGP is benefiting from everything being shutdown. There aren’t any sports to bet on, other than NASCAR and UFC, and most other greyhound and horse tracks are closed.
Most casinos around the country aren’t open, either.
“I think it’s a combination of people missing gambling and all the other tracks being closed right now,” Carpenter said. “Saturday night, we had no one to compete against, we were the only track in the country that was open. Then Sunday, we did hear Palm Beach (greyhounds) was open, as well as a few horse tracks. I do think this gives us a little bit of a window in what’s going to happen next year when all of the Florida tracks close down.”
Florida had 11 greyhound tracks and every single one will be closed by the end of this year because state voters approved a law to banish racing there. A track in Birmingham, Ala., also recently shutdown for good, with another in West Memphis, Ark., following suit after 2022.
Iowa Greyhound Park will be one of just five open tracks next year, joining Southland (West Memphis), two in West Virginia and another in Texas. The industry is withering away.
Iowa previously had track closures in Waterloo and Council Bluffs.
“I think we’ll do great handle wise this year,” Carpenter said. “But the future of greyhound racing, I don’t see it lasting much longer. People are going to stop breeding. Besides a shortage of money, there’s just going to be a shortage of dogs. Ten years from now, I personally don’t think you’ll see dog racing in the United States. It might be shorter than that, but I try to be optimistic.
“The day it does come to an end, I will be sad because I’ve been doing this for 35 years.”
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Iowa Greyhound Park races Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights at 5:30 and Sunday afternoon at 1.
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