A Florida Constitution Revision Commission panel on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed ballot measure to ban greyhound racing in the state, a goal animal rights activists have failed to achieve legislatively to this point.

  • Measure's sponsor predicts overwhelming approval from voters
  • Since 2013 more than 400 racing greyhounds have died at Florida tracks
  • Racing industry sharply disputes racing greyhounds mistreated

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), told the CRC's General Provisions Committee before the vote that the greyhound racing industry had repeatedly stymied attempts to end races at Florida's 13 dog tracks by tethering them to comprehensive gaming reform, which has also proved elusive.

A constitutional ban, he predicted, would be overwhelmingly approved by voters should the proposal appear on the November 2018 ballot.

"As we've evolved, we've banned all sorts of activities that have been considered cruel to animals - bull fighting and cockfighting and all kinds of things - and to me, this is just the next step on that plane of becoming more sensitive to this kind of inhumanity," Lee said.

Since 2013, more than 400 racing greyhounds have died at Florida tracks. While state law doesn't require tracks to report causes of death, dog racing critics believe the majority of the fatalities are due to inhumane treatment, including malnourishment and inadequate treatment of injuries.

State records also show that 22 greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine this year.

The industry sharply disputes that any of Florida's 8,000 racing greyhounds are being mistreated and warns that a racing ban would result in the elimination of 3,000 jobs. While Florida tracks have generally reported declining business over the past 20 years, the races still generate $80 million annually.

But preserving the economics of an industry in decline, greyhound protection organizations argue, shouldn't come at the expense of more injuries, sickness and deaths.

"There are some jobs involved, but not nearly the number the industry claims, and I believe if this goes before voters, voters will decide that our economy should not be built on cruelty to dogs," said Cary Thiel of the GREY2K USA greyhound advocacy group.

For the measure to appear on the ballot, it must first be approved by the full commission. Supporters believe that could pose a far more challenging hurdle to clear than Thursday's vote, especially if the greyhound racing industry more aggressively contests the proposal.

"They're not here because they knew they couldn't win today, but they're not gone," Lee said.