The great debate over greyhounds

A few things have happened at the statehouse today regarding the effort to end greyhound racing in Iowa.  First, the Iowa House had a debate about an amendment which called on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to study the “viability” of greyhound racing in Iowa.  The controversy:  having the two casinos pushing to end racing at their adjacent tracks pay for that study.  The House voted 50-32 against having the casinos pay for that study.

The overall call for a study is stalled, however.  The House may revisit that issue later tonight as the House continues to debate a wide-ranging bill (the insiders call it the “Standings Bill”) because it’s the bill on which Representative Mary Mascher tried to attach her study proposal. 

Over the noon-hour three state senators sat down at a table in the senate lounge to hold a subcommittee meeting on a bill that calls for an end to greyhound racing in Iowa.  Here’s an account of the meeting, combined with the House action mentioned above.  By the way, the bill to end greyhound racing in Iowa is going nowhere according to Senator Pam Jochum, the leader of the three-member subcommittee.  Calling for a study of the issue is the  only thing legislators may do this year.

Aside from that news, the meeting itself was interesting.  Jim Carney, Harrah’s lobbyist, handed out the report that was handed out to reporters last week when Harrah’s offered to pay the state $7 million a year if legislators vote to end greyhound racing at the Bluffs Run track.  Carney covered many of the same points as were mentioned during last week’s media event, like the 94 percent drop in wagering on dog racing in Iowa and the purse prizes paid to out-of-state dog owners.  During today’s meeting, Carney was chastized by Senator Joe Bolkcom at one point for his long-windedness.  “We’re trying to go home this week, Jim,” Bolkcom quipped. 

“I’m sorry, Joe.  Thank you,” Carney said.  “…I apologize for being too lengthy.”

Former House Speaker Don Avenson was next to speak.  Avenson is lobbying for the Iowa Greyhound Breeders Association.  Avenson spoke as a western Iowa greyhound breeder stood behind him and the mayor of Pacific Junction — another greyhound breeder — sat beside him.

Avenson mentioned his role as a legislator in creating riverboat casinos, the ancestors of today’s land-based casinos.  “I have many times since then wondered if we did the right thing because these casinos don’t create any kind of John Deere tractor.  They don’t create hams.  They don’t create any widgets that are real.  They create dreams of fortunes and huge winnings and they take our people’s money away to do that.  Billions have been taken that could have been invested in other places.”

Avenson defended the greyhound breeders. “These are animals that love to run.  They have run for thousands of years and they are very well taken care of because of the potential value of these animals.”

One of the breeders said a racing dog can be worth as much as $25,000 and about 90 percent of greyhounds are adopted once their racing days are over.

Late in the meeting, when Bolkcom asked about the pay scale for those who work in the greyhound industry, Avenson suggested those jobs paid as well “as the dealers at the casino.”

“Do we need more of those jobs?” Bolkcom asked. 

“I was being facetious,” Avenson replied. 

Senator Shawn Hamerlinck was the third member of the subcommittee and he spoke for a few moments, outlining his thoughts on the topic.

“I’m not a fan of gaming by nature,” Hamerlinck said at about the 23 minute point of the meeting.  “…It’s actually more of a vulturistic type of activity…The bigger issue that exists here is whether or not we will have dog track races 20 years from now in the state of Iowa and if the answer is yes, then how will the two sides get along?

“Realistically, if we follow the trends of the rest of the country, the existence of dog racing in the United States is on its last legs — and I hate to use that as a pun — but then the question is how are the two sides going to find an amicable solution?” 

After those brief comments from Hamerlinck, others around the table began to speak.  After a few more minutes, Hamerlinck joked that he’d been warned by Jochum not to say anything, because it would just lengthen the meeting.  “I’ve come to the realization that I should have followed the two winks that I got,” Hamerlinck quipped.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.