While gays in California vent their anger about the initiative that will stop same sex marriages, Massachusetts has initiative problems as well – only theirs has to do with dogs. Or more specifically, dog racing.
It’s a gray, dismal day outside Raynham Park, matching the mood inside the grandstand of the greyhound racetrack.
“It’s been very somber here,” said Gary Temple, general manager of the track that’s been in operation for almost 80 years.
In the wake of last week’s statewide referendum vote to ban greyhound racing, the track will have to shut down by Jan. 1, 2010, unless the law is changed.
“How do you tell people that you did nothing wrong but you don’t have a job anymore?” he asked. “People misunderstood an issue and you’re unemployed.”
He’s trying to explain that to his 653 full- and part-time employees, many of whom have worked there for decades.
Last year, Raynham Park handled $135 million in wagers. About one-sixth of that — almost $25 million — was bet on the live greyhound racing. The rest was wagered on simulcast races at other greyhound and horse tracks across the country.
From those wagers, the track gave $2.6 million to the state and $400,000 to the host town of Raynham. Those payments don’t account for property, payroll or meals taxes, nor for the $5 million in lottery tickets purchased at the track in 2007. When Raynham Park closes, all that money goes away.
“The last thing this state budget needs is the loss of revenue and the loss of more jobs,” said state Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, whose district includes Raynham.
“We’re talking about losing 1,000 jobs (at both Raynham and Wonderland in Revere, the state’s only other greyhound racetrack), but because they’re at greyhound parks, there wasn’t too much discussion,” Pacheco said. “If we were talking about losing 1,000 jobs at an industrial park there would be an uproar.
The summary of the initiative stated:
This proposed law would prohibit any dog racing or racing meeting in Massachusetts where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs. The State Racing Commission would be prohibited from accepting or approving any application or request for racing dates for dog racing. Any person violating the proposed law could be required to pay a civil penalty of not less than $20,000 to the Commission. All existing parts of the chapter of the state’s General Laws concerning dog and horse racing meetings would be interpreted as if they did not refer to dogs. These changes would take effect January 1, 2010.
The initiative passed by a vote of 56% to 44%. Amongst the supporters of the initiative was the large and rich animal rights organization, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) .
The opponents of the initiative, who were for the most part the two race tracks that would be shut down if it passed, based their argument mainly on economic concerns, while the supporters went for the emotional argument.
Arguments in favor of the initiative that have been made by its supporters include:
- In late 2003 and early 2004, a greyhound at Wonderland Greyhound Park tested positive for cocaine.
- The claim that thousands of dogs suffer inhumane conditions at Wonderland Greyhound Park and Raynham Park, Massachusetts’ two racetracks, by being kept confined for 20 hours every day in small cages barely large enough for the animals to stand up or turn around in.
- The claim that over 800 dogs have suffered serious injuries while competing at Massachusetts racetracks, including broken bones, head injuries, and paralysis.
- The dog racing industry has experienced a “catastrophic economic decline” in the past two decades, which has led to some racetracks seeking assistance from politicians, including direct subsidies, tax breaks, special trust funds, and expanded gambling rights.
- It requires over 1000 dogs to operate a Massachusetts race track
Arguments that have been made against the initiative include:
- That supporters of the initiative use photographs of hurt and emaciated greyhounds from other states to make its case and that Massachusetts dogs were healthy and well treated.
- If the initiative passes, it will lead to the loss of jobs that support the Massachusetts economy.
It’s pretty obvious who’s going to win that one, but it would also seem that the State and the town of Raynham didn’t get involved in the fight, although the vote in the areas near the race track went overwhelmingly against shutting the race tracks down.
But in Raynham and nearby communities, “the places where people knew the operation and knew what the economic conditions were and could feel the consequences, the measure was defeated overwhelmingly,” Pacheco said.
Indeed, on a vote of 5,409 to 1,406, Raynham opposed the question — as did voters in all nearby communities. For those across the rest of the state, “it was an animal-rights issue, not an economic issue,” Pacheco said.
There may be issues where initiatives make some sense, but increasingly they have been used by activist groups to drive a narrow agenda.
The last word?
Asked why dog racing was targeted but not horse racing, Temple said, “People don’t have a horse that sleeps at the foot of their beds.”