Florida senator files proposal to ban dog racing in state

In this is a June 21, 2005, file photo, greyhounds compete during a race at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, Mass.
In this is a June 21, 2005, file photo, greyhounds compete during a race at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, Mass. Lisa Poole

Voters may soon have the option to ban dog racing in Florida.

A proposal to ban dog racing in the state was filed Wednesday by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Lee is on the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to place amendments on the ballot and meets every 20 years. Lee would need to convince the majority of the commission members to allow the proposal on the 2018 ballot before the decision would be passed to voters, according to the Democrat.

Currently, Florida law mandates greyhound racing if tracks offer cardrooms and slots. There are 12 tracks in the state — including one in Sarasota and another in St. Petersburg — where 8,000 dogs race. There are just seven other tracks in the country.

Live racing at Sarasota Kennel Club starts Friday and goes through April 21, 2018, according to a recorded message on the club’s phone. A message left requesting comment from the Sarasota Kennel Club was not immediately returned.

Dog racing is banned in 40 states and controversy surrounds the industry. Opponents say dogs are mistreated and have tested positive for cocaine, according to reports.

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said in a statement. “For over a decade, the Legislature has fought to end greyhound racing, but special interests derail the issue every year. Now is our opportunity to finally end the mistreatment of greyhounds, reduce the amount of gambling in our state, and restore community values.”

Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the industry, told the Democrat that the abuse allegations come from “radical out-of-state animal rights groups that take care of no animals in the state of Florida.”

He also said it would put thousands of Floridians out of a job if the industry ceased to exist in the state.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, at least 22 greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine this year and state figures show nearly 400 dogs have died at Florida tracks since 2013.

Gamblers spent $500 million betting on dog races nationwide in 2014, the Tallahassee Democrat reported, citing the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

As of early Wednesday, 75 proposals were filed with the Constitution Revision Commission, according to the News Service of Florida. Lee’s proposed ban on dog racing is Proposal 67.

The deadline to file amendment proposals was Tuesday.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh