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Joe Henderson: Industry favored over Tom Lee in greyhound racing fight

The proposal by state Sen. Tom Lee to phase out and finally end greyhound racing in Florida is sure to encounter lots of turbulence from lobbyists.

Lee’s pitch to the Constitutional Revision Commission, of which he is a member, would put an amendment before voters in 2018. It would need 60 percent approval to become law and end greyhound racing at Florida’s 12 tracks by July 1, 2021.

While I believe Lee’s idea is to let voters decide the issue a lot of merit, I also know the pari-mutuel industry still packs a punch and will do everything possible to stop him, just like it always does when the state tries to overhaul legal gambling.

I make it a prohibitive 2-5 favorite in the opening odds.

I hope I’m wrong. Lee’s argument that greyhounds are mistreated while waiting to race is powerful.

“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.

That sentiment is echoed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Racing Greyhounds routinely experience terrible injuries on the track such as broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis and broken necks,” the ASPCA web site reads.

“They suffer off the track as well: Dogs caught up in this cruel industry spend most of their lives stacked in warehouse-style kennels for 20 or more hours a day, or are kept outdoors in dirt pens with minimal shelter. Most enclosures are not heated or air-conditioned.”

In January, officials revoked a racing trainer’s license after cocaine was found in the systems of five greyhounds at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. That practice is not confined to Florida. In September, racing officials in Ireland announced a champion greyhound also had tested positive for an ingredient in cocaine.

People from the greyhound industry argue that a few rouge trainers shouldn’t taint the rest of those who treat their animals well. After all, the theory goes, these greyhounds are like fine athletes and trainers would be crazy to mistreat them.

Nice try.

The constitutional commission has the authority to place amendment proposals directly on the ballot without the usual signature-gathering process, and so we have to ask: Why not let Floridians decide this issue for themselves?

I think Lee is correct when he talks about that “growing recognition” that the public is turning against the idea of using these magnificent dogs for sport and profit.

I also believe that’s what the scares leaders in the industry most about his idea to let voters decide, and that’s why they fight like the dickens to make sure they don’t get the chance.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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