South African politicians think their country should get into the greyhound racing business. A parliamentary committee has submitted a recommendation to the Department of Trade and Industry to draft legislation that would take dog racing off the prohibited gambling activities list. The Independent Online reported the plan has the firm backing of MP Graham McIntosh, who characterized dog racing as “an authentic black element” enjoyed (illegally, at present) by much of the KwaZulu-Natal population. The committee claimed legal dog racing would provide extra tax revenues for the state, jobs for its citizens and more humane treatment for the sport’s canine competitors.
On the same day, the New York Times published a lengthy piece on how the US greyhound racing industry has, er, gone to the dogs. The number of tracks in the States has shrunk from 49 to 22 over the past decade, and those that have survived have done so largely on the strength of their ancillary operations, i.e. slot machines. Things have deteriorated to the point that track owners in Iowa, Florida and Arizona are now petitioning their state legislators to be allowed to decrease the number of races they are legally required to offer. Some are even asking that they be allowed to ditch the dogs altogether and tear down the tracks, while holding on to their lucrative slots licenses.
Bo Guidry, GM at the Horseshoe Council Bluffs in Iowa, says there’s “no reason to continue spending money on a dying sport.” The Horseshoe is owned by debt-ridden Caesars Entertainment, which has been offering the state tens of millions of dollars if they’ll scrap a 1994 law requiring them to keep the tracks going. Critics have pointed out that the only reason the tracks were granted slots licenses in the first place was to help subsidize their racing operations, so they see this plea to ditch the dogs as the end game of a Machiavellian master plan. (Caesars having a plan? Surely, you jest.)
David Schwartz, director at the University of Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research, says dogs aren’t the only four-legged laggards. “All live racing is declining in popularity. It’s just not as impulse-oriented, as convenience-oriented as most gambling is today.” Those sentiments were recently echoed by Nebraska state Sen. Mark Christensen. “Horse racing is too slow. We live in a microwave society, it’s about instant gratification.” Nebraska’s solution? Microwave the horses! (Just kidding.) Actually, the state is currently debating legislation that would allow tracks to offer wagering on archival horse races via instant racing terminals. The machines would randomly offer races from a library of thousands of videos stripped of all info that might jog a diehard racing bettor’s memory (date, time, horse names, etc.).
So there you have it. Racing’s survival strategy is to go back to the future. The theory is that the machines will allow tracks to offer more betting options to punters, but the logical extension is that it will likely erode or even eliminate the importance of the actual live races. It’s ironic that many of the foremost racing states are governed by Republicans, supposedly the party that frowns on bailouts and subsidies to underperforming industries. Believe it or not, there once was a race horse named after Ayn Rand, but we suspect it was sent to the knackers some time ago.