Most of the readers of this column have never been to the Southland Greyhound Race Track in West Memphis.
So there will be very little public outcry here in Northwest Arkansas or even in Eastern Arkansas about the greyhound racing being phased out, leaving the border city of West Memphis in 2020.
In fact, I am not so sure the West Memphians themselves, have over the last two or three decades, haven't grown tired of this sport of racing dogs around a track after a mechanical rabbit-like device and wagering money on the outcome.
Dog racing began in 1956 in West Memphis as an economic boom -- with folks flocking across the bridges from larger Memphis, north Mississippi and even southern Illinois to lay down dollars on these dog races.
It would seem, after the "racing games of skill" were allowed some years back that more and more of those greyhound dollars have been placed in these electronic machines (i.e. slot machines) for the gambling entertainment.
And with the recent passage of Constitutional Amendment 100, the same law that allows for full-fledged casinos at the West Memphis and Hot Springs race tracks allowed by Arkansas law, well, racing dogs for dollars, seems outdated.
But, not only is dog racing outdated in Arkansas, a recent state-wide vote on Florida where greyhound race tracks are numerous -- was approved that Floridians do not want more or any greyhound race tracks. Only six states allow dog racing in the United States -- make that five after Dec. 31, 2020.
Dogs, unlike horses, are found in more homes in America.
And dog racing, and all the associated industry - the breeding, the kennels, the training, etc., have been under scrutiny by pet protection agencies of an increased state of late.
So after 2020 there will be no more greyhound races in West Memphis.
But casino-style entertainment will be there. So be it.
I, once as a college journalism student, received permission from Southland Greyhound Park, to come over for a feature story. I had a Crittenden County deputy sheriff accompany me around the park as I snapped photos of the operations -- but by mutual agreement -- no photos of the betting patrons -- as part of the agreement on the access to write the story.
I had already done a similar piece on the thoroughbred horse racing at Oaklawn in Hot Springs.
But these two sports were vastly different.
There was much more state oversight of the horses and horse track operations than the dog track.
And thusly I saw a dingier side of pari-mutuel betting going on in West Memphis.
Power forward 20 years later to a recent meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association in West Memphis. One evening all the delegates were invited to the track for a dinner and look around at the new "electronic wagering" devices -- i.e. a casino with the dog track as the backdrop.
The casino floor was crowded.
The grandstands to watch the five or six dogs in a pack chase the "electronic bunny" rabbit were almost void of patrons.
Yes, the dogs ran the races, while folks who once bet on the races were inside playing "electronic games of skill."
Do I think this could also happen at Oaklawn?
No. But only because of the generations of the Cella family -- who hail from St. Louis and really have equine blood in their veins.
But heck, even these millionaires who are given a license to operate a horse racing track in Arkansas, have to make money in doing so.
The existing tax on casino gambling produced $33 million for greyhound purses in the year ending June 30, a year in which a total of only $16 million was wagered on dog races. The Casino operations made $3 billion in operations.
So when dog racing ends, Southland no longer would claim the 40 percent of total state taxes directed to purse funds for dog races.
Maybe, just maybe those funds could be sent somewhere else.
--MAYLON RICE IS A FORMER JOURNALIST WHO WORKED FOR SEVERAL NORTHWEST ARKANSAS PUBLICATIONS. HE CAN BE REACHED VIA EMAIL AT [email protected] THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR.
General News on 10/23/2019