State Sen. Tom Lee, who also sits on the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), has been gauging support for a constitutional amendment to end greyhound racing, sources told Florida Politics on Tuesday.
Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican running for state chief financial officer in 2018, has called some of the state’s dog track owners to “take their temperature,” said one industry lobbyist, who asked not to be named.
“There’s not many people that know about that,” Lee confirmed after a CRC meeting Tuesday. “It’s something that has been on my mind … There’s no question I’m considering it.”
The details still haven’t been sussed out, he added, including whether to make it immediate or phase it in over time. He’s also still weighing what effect it will have on jobs. Commissioners face an Oct. 31 filing deadline.
“It wouldn’t be optional; this isn’t decoupling,” Lee, a former Senate president, said of his proposal. “This would be a mandatory ban for dog racing in Florida, to just prohibit it.”
“Decoupling” is the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms. Under decoupling, tracks could still choose to run dogs.
Lee also said his amendment wouldn’t affect any other gambling now permitted at tracks.
Efforts to remove the live racing requirement have failed in the Legislature in recent years, including this past session, as lawmakers continually fail to pass comprehensive gambling legislation.
Yet another lobbyist said the Lee amendment “is not an (pari-mutuel) industry thing … We didn’t bring this to him.”
That person added, “My guess? It’s a feel-good animal rights issue that probably polls well.”
Some pari-mutuels want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline every year. Horse and dog interests say ending live racing will kill their business, many of whom have bred dogs for generations.
But track ownership’s reaction to his proposal has been a “mixed bag,” said another racing industry consultant. “Despite what they tell you, some tracks still make quite a bit of money” from dog racing, the consultant said.
Flagler Dog Track, for instance, reported nearly $4 million in revenue from greyhound races for 2015-16, according to state records. And Palm Beach Kennel Club reported close to $9.3 million in revenue from the “handle,” the total amount wagered at a track in a racing season.
Jack Cory, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association in Florida, said “let it roll” when told of the proposal.
“That would be fine,” Cory said. “That is the only proper way to eliminate live pari-mutuels in this state, and that is what we would be talking about. Of course, that would also create mini-casinos throughout Florida.
“… But again, if (the commission) wants to run that amendment, hey, lock and load,” he added.
The Constitution Revision Commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.
The panel is required to wrap up its work by May 10, 2018.