New Hampshire Debates Future of Dog Tracks
Does this debate in New Hampshire foreshadow what we can expect across North America?
Thanks to Boston.com for this article.
Future of dog tracks under debate in N.H.
Bill calling for ban defeated in House
By Tom Long, Globe Correspondent | April 8, 2007
It's a scene that would be familiar to Damon Runyon: About 50 gray-haired men sporting baseball caps and smoking cigars scribble notes on racing forms.
The dogs won't be running at Seabrook Greyhound Park until July 1, but the betting windows are open seven days a week as gamblers place wagers on horse, dog, and harness races around the country. The action is not taking place on the track at Seabrook, but unfolds on a wall of 30 TVs broadcasting races from such places as Aqueduct, Raynham, and Palm Beach.
At a time when casinos are opening all over the country, some wonder whether this type of gambling will disappear from the landscape altogether. If it were up to a certain group of animal activists, that day would have happened long ago at Seabrook.
Last month, the New Hampshire House of Representatives declined to pass a bill that would have outlawed greyhound racing in the Granite State and effectively would have ended betting on simulcasts. The vote on the so-called Dog Protection Act was 198 to 138.
"Though some complain that the dogs are mistreated at the tracks, I think they are relatively pampered," Representative Kenneth Weyler, a Kingston Republican, said last week. "It seemed like an extreme bill for a relatively minor problem."
Weyler, who spoke against the bill on the floor, said, "According to state records, only one half of 1 percent of the dogs are injured, and the bill would have put 500 people out of work. It was really an anti gambling bill, not a pro dog bill."
If passed, House Bill 923 would have made New Hampshire the 35th state to ban greyhound racing, and the first to shut down an operating racing industry. The ban would have taken effect on July 1, 2009.
Current law allows the three New Hampshire dog tracks -- in Belmont, Hinsdale, and Seabrook -- to take bets on dog and horse races broadcast from tracks throughout the country, but requires they run at least 50 days of live greyhound racing in order to simulcast.
"I don't think greyhound racing is an industry that reflects the values and sensibilities of the people of New Hampshire," said Representative Peter Schmidt, a Dover Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill to ban the sport.
"It's a profoundly exploitive industry that is unhealthy and unappetizing. The dogs basically spend the first four years of their lives in cages. But the tracks made a strong argument that the animals are not abused; you'd think they were living in the lap of luxury."
Schmidt said he got much of his information on the industry from Grey2kUSA, an antidog-racing group based in Somerville, Mass.
A report prepared by Grey2K states that in the past two years (2005 and 2006) 716 dogs were injured at New Hampshire tracks, with 22 percent, or 157, of the injuries described as career- or life-threatening.
"We don't know how many of those injuries resulted in death," said Paul LaFlamme of Nashua, a former state representative and member of the board of directors of Grey2k.
"The dogs deserve to be protected," he said.
"Thousands of dogs live lives of nearly endless confinement and are kept in cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around in for 22 hours a day. At the minimum, we should do something to establish minimum standards of care. "
Daniel Callaghan, a lawyer based in Manchester who is a lobbyist for Seabrook Greyhound Park and is fielding all inquiries on the subject, disagreed with LaFlamme.
"There is no question that some of the animals are injured but those injuries are minimal. I think there's a disconnect here. Those animals are the industry's bread and butter, and they are treated accordingly. They get plenty of exercise and are treated better than most pets. They have daily access to a veterinarian."
Schmidt said: "I think it is clear that dog racing is an industry in decline. Attendance is shrinking and they make most of their money from betting on simulcasts. I think they might even lose money on live racing. They are just trying to stay alive in the hopes that slot machines or casinos are legalized in New Hampshire."
If dog racing were made illegal, the towns of Belmont, Hinsdale, and Seabrook would feel the pinch.