The 2020 greyhound racing season will be the last chance to watch live dog racing in Lee County.
Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing and Poker will end dog racing in two years, spokesman Izzy Havenick said via email Wednesday.
Florida voters on Tuesday approved Amendment 13, ending live greyhound racing in the state by 2021.
The amendment separates greyhound racing from attached poker rooms, so card games could continue in the Bonita Springs location.
“Our family-owned business will transition to new entertainment options for the community as we work with local leaders and area residents to continue to deliver for them,” Havenick said in the email.
With nearly all votes counted statewide, about 5.3 million voters, or 69 percent, favored the amendment compared to about 2.4 million, or 31 percent, against it.
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In Lee County, 194,554 voters, or 70 percent, favored the amendment compared to 81,671 voters, or 30 percent, against it. For Collier County, 102,399 voters, or 71 percent, favored the amendment while 42,854 voters, or 29 percent, were against the ban.
Animal rights activists, the main supporters of the dog racing amendment, were thrilled with the result. Animal safety concerns drove the amendment to the ballot. Lawmakers wrote in the amendment that the “humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida.”
“Everything for years has been about gambling and expansion and the dogs were just stuck in the middle,” said Sonia Stratemann, vice chairwoman of Protect Dogs-Yes to 13. “Voters have shown how they feel.”
Greyhound trainers have said the amendment would cause the loss of hundreds of jobs, said Jennifer Newcome, chairwoman of the Committee to Support Greyhounds.
“Most trainers will have a difficult time,” Newcome said. “A lot are third-generation trainers and have been in the business since they were born. These people did not pursue a college education or looked for other work.”
The constitutional amendment did not address what to do with the more than 6,000 soon-to-be retired greyhounds, leaving organizations and local adoption groups to pick up the slack.
“There are groups already mobilizing in other states,” said Kate MacFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “We see this as an incredible opportunity to find homes.”
Some dog tracks might operate the full two years until the ban takes effect, while others could close as early as Jan. 1. If tracks space out closures, the adoption centers should be able to handle the dogs, MacFall said.
A normal greyhound racing career is about two years, so steady track closures wouldn’t affect the adoption flow as much as a mass track closure at the beginning of the year.
The Humane Society is offering support for placement of the animals, MacFall said.
Newcome said the trainers are looking to the Humane Society and other national organizations for help.
“The people who took care of the dogs just lost everything,” she said. “Now the people who put this on the ballot should share some responsibility (in adoption).”
Some local residents were divided on how to vote. Party lines didn’t apply, so some people left politics out of the equation. Others voted against the amendment because of messy wording, even if they disapproved of greyhound racing.
Florida and Collier election results: General (11-06-18)
Gordon Campbell, 53, and his wife, Pina Campbell, 58, cast votes to end the sport. The couple have owned greyhounds for 20 years and don’t agree with racing dogs for profit.
“You don’t do that to dogs just so people can have a poker game,” Pina Campbell said.
Dog tracks were required by law to continue dog racing in order to operate lucrative poker rooms.
Gordon Campbell said racing dogs that begin losing are often taken care of poorly.
“It’s just a horrible, horrible industry in that regards,” he said.
Michael Lepp, 66, voted to continue dog racing even though he’ll get flak from his wife, he said. Lepp’s wife believes dog racing is cruel, he said.
“I’ve gone to races all over the country,” Lepp said. “It’s entertainment. It’s really entertaining. I do like the gambling aspect of it.”
Poker room problems
Poker rooms that normally accompany dog tracks didn’t escape election night unscathed.
Amendment 3 proposed to give voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”
Floridians overwhelmingly approved of the change, sealing it in the state constitution. Statewide, about 5,560,000 voters, or 71 percent, favored the amendment compared to about 2,220,000 voters, or 29 percent, against it.
In Lee County, 185,151 voters, or 67 percent, favored the amendment compared to 92,150 voters, or 33 percent, against it. For Collier County, 107,487 voters, or 73 percent, favored the amendment while 40,482 voters or 27 percent were against it.
The Legislature previously chose whether new casinos could open and whether dog track or horse track gaming rooms could expand.
The new process forces gaming companies through a lengthy process to expand, including getting hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and getting approval from voters.
Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing and Poker can keep their poker room unchanged, although any plans for expansion would be difficult.
The Seminole Tribe spent millions of dollars convincing voters to approve the gambling change. Seminole Tribe casinos are exempt from the amendment changes. Disney Worldwide Services Inc. also poured millions into backing the amendment.
Smaller poker rooms and dog and horse tracks opposed the amendment, which gives Seminole Tribe casinos a significant advantage in expanding gambling in the state.
The Miami Dolphins told its Twitter followers to vote against the gambling amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door to sports betting, though Florida has not allowed the practice.
Restricting the possibility of new casinos — and any included sports betting — could hurt the team’s possible betting revenue.
While the passed gambling amendment hurts Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing and Poker most, residents will not see the direct effects as much as removing a dog track. The track occupies large amounts of land, and what the company plans to do with the soon-to-be-unused space is unknown.
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