Greyhound racing dates as far back as the Egyptian civilization. It wasn't until the 16th century that greyhound racing made its way to England. At that time, it consisted of two greyhounds chasing a hare on a track. Greyhound racing was introduced to America in the 20th century when, in 1919, Owen Patrick Smith and the Blue Star Amusement Company built the first greyhound racing track in Emeryville, California. The oval track used a mechanical lure rather than live lures. Although dog racing was not legal, 67 tracks had opened across the country by 1930. These tracks were venues for illegal gambling. Over time, racing went from the use of just two dogs to up to eight dogs racing against each other at a time. Greyhound Racing: The Controversy, Dogoday (last visited Apr. 25, 2019), available at https://dogoday.com/2018/08/29/greyhound-racing-controversy/.
The first state to legalize dog racing and pari-mutuel wagering was Florida in 1931. Pari-mutuel wagering is a form of betting in which all wagers go into the same pool and is shared equally between those who make the winning selection with taxes taken out by the house which is typically a state-run organization or a private company. Guide to Pari-Mutuel Betting, Gambling Sites (last visited May 9, 2019), available at https://www.gamblingsites.com/sports-betting/types/pari-mutuel/.) Other states followed suit between the 1930s to the 1980s.
In the 1970s, concerns began to arise regarding overbreeding and the humane treatment of greyhounds. Many of these concerns arose due to the breeding practices of greyhounds coming to light. Only 30 percent of the greyhounds that are bred actually make it to a racetrack. The rest are either given away or euthanized merely because they lack the potential to win. Greyhound Racing: The Controversy, Dogoday (last visited Apr. 25, 2019), available at https://dogoday.com/2018/08/29/greyhound-racing-controversy/. The greyhounds that actually make it to the racetrack suffer many injuries such as broken legs and necks, cardiac arrest, and spinal cord paralysis. Even when greyhounds are off of the track, they are placed in kennels for up to 20 hours a day or are kept outdoors with minimal shelter. Greyhound Racing, ASPCA (last visited May 9, 2019), available at https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/other-animal-issues/greyhound-racing. By the 1990s, states began repealing their authorization of pari-mutuel wagering on dog racing. As a result, greyhound racing is now illegal in 41 states. The History of Greyhound Racing in the United States, Advocacy for Animals (Sept. 7, 2015), available at http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2015/09/the-history-of-greyhound-racing-in-the-united-states/.
Today, the only states that still allow greyhound racing and have active tracks are Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia. There are four states that do not have active racetracks, but still have laws legalizing greyhound racing. Those states are Wisconsin, Connecticut, Kansas, and Oregon.
All nine of these states authorize pari-mutuel wagering and require a license for a track to hold dog races. With the exception of Wisconsin and Connecticut, each state created a racing commission through their respective statutes to supervise races, issue licenses, and regulate racing. Wisconsin has its department of administration supervise, regulate, and issue licenses. Connecticut has its Commissioner of Consumer Protection supervise and regulate dog racing.
Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Kansas require that municipalities or counties obtain approval from a local option election in order to obtain a license. (Ala. Code 1975 § 11-65-4); (W. Va. Code, § 19-23-8c); (A.C.A. § 23-111-303); (K. S. A. 74-8813). In Wisconsin, first time applicants for a license must obtain a resolution, adopted by the governing body of the city village, or town where the racetrack is to be located after a public hearing is conducted, supporting the proposed location of the racetrack and its ownership and operator. W. S. A. 562.05. Oregon's statute states that it may require written recommendation of the board of county commissioners in the county the race is to be held if it is to be held outside of the city. If the race is to be held inside of the city, the governing body of that city would write the recommendation. O. R. S. § 462.055.
Some states have additional provisions that regulate the humane treatment of animals. Iowa contains a provision prohibiting dogs that are numbed or drugged from participating in races and allows for the racing commission to administer tests of bodily fluids of dogs. I. C. A. § 99D.25. A violation constitutes a felony. Iowa is the only state to enact a provision that mandates all tracks licensed to race dogs maintain a dog adoption program. I. C. A. § 99D.27. Tracks must advertise the availability of adoptable dogs in the media. Alabama's statute contains a provision that prohibits stimulating or depressing a dog by any mechanical device that does not qualify as regulated racing equipment or administering any poison, drug, medicine, or other substance to a dog that is entered or about to enter a race unless it is for medical purposes. Ala. Code 1975 § 11-65-39. Oregon's statute contains a similar provision prohibiting the stimulation or depression of a dog involved in any race by the administration of drugs or any mechanical device that is not sanctioned by the Oregon Racing Commission. O. R. S. § 462.415. Kansas, on the other hand, allows for its racing commission to adopt rules that establish acceptable levels of drugs and medications for race dogs. K. S. A. 74-8811.
Wisconsin has several provisions in its statute that further the humane treatment of dogs in racing. The very first section of the statute calls for the humane treatment of animals involved in racing throughout their lives on and off the racetrack. W. S. A. 562.001. Another provision prohibits dogs that are trained with live lures or bait from racing. W. S. A. 562.10. The last provision that Wisconsin contains that furthers the humane treatment of dogs states that no person may kill or caused to be killed any race dog or dog that was bred or trained in the state for racing except by a humane chemical method that is specified by the department. W. S. A. 562.105.
Dog racing has since been on the decline partly due to the realization of how dogs at these racetracks are treated cruelly and inhumanely. Between 2001 and 2014 the total amount gambled on greyhound racing nationwide declined by 70 percent. State tax revenue from greyhound racing declined by 82 percent in that same time span. Dog Racing is a Dying Industry, Grey2k USA (last visited Apr. 28, 2019), available at https://www.grey2kusa.org/about/dying_industry.php. In the past almost two decades, several states have adopted specific laws to ban dog racing: Pennsylvania (2004), Massachusetts (2010), Rhode Island (2010), New Hampshire (2010), Colorado (2014), Arizona (2016) and Florida (2018, effective 1/1/21). In 2018, Florida experienced record low attendance and revenue at their racetracks. A study in 2012 found that Florida lost $35 million with only three out of fourteen tracks turning a profit from greyhound racing. Voters Just Decided to Ban Wagering on Greyhound Racing in the Sport's Biggest State, MotherJones (Nov. 5, 2018), available at https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/11/election-day-could-mean-the-end-of-greyhound-racing-in-the-sports-biggest-state/. On November 6, 2018 Florida voted to close down all eleven of its greyhound racing tracks by December 2020 by passing Amendment 13.
As racetracks continue to close, the mission will no longer be banning greyhound racing, but finding homes for all the displaced dogs. Some will be sent to other available tracks out of state to continue racing, but others will head to shelters and adoption agencies, many of which may lack the capacity and funding to care for the influx in dogs