On any given Saturday, you could wander into the main floor of the Orange Park Kennel Club near Jacksonville and work your way past simulcast screens, through glass doors and out onto the broad bleachers to see fleet-footed greyhounds hustle around a well-groomed track.
Those days, however, came to an end all across Florida this past Thursday, as the tradition ceased for good following a 2018 voter amendment — Amendment 13 — that banned dog racing and required all tracks to close by Dec. 31, 2020.
Locals lament the end of Florida dog tracks
Tracks closed at various times after the amendment passed in Nov. 2018. By May 2019, four of 11 venues were shuttered.
As each location closed, the quiet tracks carried a wealth of memories for local residents that spanned, in some cases, more than 70 years.
The Palm Beach Kennel Club, which opened its doors in 1932, closed those fabled doors on Dec. 31.
The club’s president, Patrick Rooney Jr., spoke with local media about the facility’s history.
“You had Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and those guys in here,” Rooney told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Joe DiMaggio, and, I think, Marilyn Monroe, were in here.”
Like the Palm Beach Kennel Club, St. Petersburg’s Derby Lane stayed open until the last possible day.
Alexis Winning, marketing coordinator for Derby Lane, felt the amendment ended more than just racing.
“Derby Lane opened in 1925, the world’s longest, continuous operating greyhound track,” Winning told a Jacksonville NBC affiliate in 2019. “Why break that tradition?”
Advocates say closures were needed
A driving force behind Amendment 13 was the voice of greyhound adoption organizations, who decried the conditions in which racing greyhounds live.
“Dog racing is out of sync with society’s values toward animals,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund wrote in support of the amendment. “Today this kind of wasteful and needless suffering is rejected as a form of gambling or entertainment … common racing injuries include broken necks and broken backs, dislocations, torn muscles, and paralysis.”
The final tally for the Amendment 13 vote indicated residents took these arguments to heart: 69.1% chose to support the amendment.
And it wasn’t just average voters who saw the value in ending dog racing. Danny Adkins, former manager at Broward County’s Hollywood track, told local media he was glad the tracks were closing.
“We lost $3 million a year to keep open greyhound racing.”
Where do dog tracks go from here?
A logical question to ask for the state’s 11 tracks: “What’s next?”
While the future of some is uncertain, others are opting to use their facilities for card rooms.
Poker clubs are common at dog tracks. The Orange Park Kennel Club is home to a bestbet-sponsored card room run that runs daily games and hosts monthly tournaments. The Daytona Beach Kennel Club went the same route in 2008, opening a card room that featured 50 tables.
Naples-Fort Meyers Greyhound Racing and Poker redeveloped its aging facilities over the past two years. It then opened a new card room with table games and betting on jai alai and horse racing.