Florida Sen. Tom Lee Proposes Unique way to Ban Greyhound Racing, but is it Meaningful and Helpful Change or a Decoupling Effort Aimed at Gambling Expansion?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing struggles of Florida’s greyhound industry and efforts to remove the races, but keep the slot machine gambling, an act known as decoupling. As it stands, to offer slot machines, the tracks must maintain a certain level of dog racing. Many see the terrible conditions for the animals as reason enough to shut down the industry and others want to not only protect the dogs, but Florida’s families by removing the full scope of gambling happening at the 12 tracks across Florida. Florida state Sen. Tom Lee, and former Senate President Don Gaetz are approaching the issue in unique way. As an online source explainsthe current methods to ban greyhound racing have failed due to the ability for those in opposition to add gambling expansion and other amendments to the bill that would make it undesirable. They now think the have a way around this issue:

Gaetz and state Sen. Tom Lee, both members of the Constitutional Revision Committee convened early this year, are listed as co-introducers of a measure “to prohibit wagering on greyhound or other dog races.”

Gaetz called the gaming event known as the Sport of Kings “a cruel, abusive practice” and noted that twice when he served as Senate President he had proposed legislation to ban greyhound racing. Both times the measure had passed the Senate and failed in the House.

Then-House Speaker Will Weatherspoon had been hesitant to have a companion bill to his legislation brought up for consideration, Gaetz said, because doing so would allow for amendment proposals that could serve to expand all sorts of gambling opportunities in the state.

“He was afraid we could move from a very humane bill about greyhounds to amended legislation creating a dramatic expansion of casino gambling,” Gaetz said. “It was a real tragedy we couldn’t get a clean bill banning greyhound racing passed.” As Constitution Revision Commission members, though, Gaetz and Lee can control the wording of the amendment they propose without fear of amendments being added. The proposed amendment would then be voted upon by state residents. “This seems like a better environment for this proposal,” Gaetz said.

If the proposed amendment is an outright ban of greyhound racing and doesn’t allow the site operators to stay open and operate mini-casinos by way of legally allowed slot parlors, the measure can be viewed as a win for the animals and Florida families. If, however, the measure simply prevents additional gambling amendments, but still leaves mini-casinos behind via decoupling, then it’s not nearly as beneficial as it appears on face. Some are skeptical. Former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp has been outspoken against decoupling and his article in Florida Politics outlines the decoupling potential:

State Sen. *Tom Lee* has proposed a constitutional amendment, as a member of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission, that would end live greyhound racing and allow all 12 of Florida’s greyhound tracks to essentially continue operating as mini casinos.

It has been suggested that the proposal is an animal welfare proposal. There have been numerous attempts to end live racing in the Legislature over the years. All of those efforts have failed, in large part, because most members of the Legislature oppose the dramatic expansion of gambling that would result from such efforts.

It must also be noted however; his end goal is not to solely or altruistically oppose the act because gambling would left in the wake, as so many others do. He openly represents Florida Greyhound Association, so to that end, their goal is to keep greyhound racing alive. The rational and motivation behind each particular path can become muddled, but the reality of how this issue will be resolved is in the air until final language is seen. The intent of this measure is certainly being outlined from an animal welfare standpoint though, so time will tell what the final wording will be or even if it will make it to voters. The Bradenton Herald explains:

Dog racing is banned in 40 states and controversy surrounds the industry. Opponents say dogs are mistreated and have tested positive for cocaine, according to reports. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, at least 22 greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine this year and state figures show nearly 400 dogs have died at Florida tracks since 2013.

“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 in a statement. “For over a decade, the Legislature has fought to end greyhound racing, but special interests derail the issue every year. Now is our opportunity to finally end the mistreatment of greyhounds, reduce the amount of gambling in our state, and restore community values.”

Lee is on the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to place amendments on the ballot and meets every 20 years. Lee would need to convince the majority of the commission members to allow the proposal on the 2018 ballot before the decision would be passed to voters, according to the Democrat.

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