Dog race wagering persists 13 years after voter law

Boston Statehouse

Christine Dorchak, president of Grey2K USA Worldwide and the drafter of the 2008 ballot law that banned dog racing in Massachusetts, has for years pushed lawmakers to stop allowing bettors here to wager on dog races simulcast from other states and countries. (SHNS Screenshot)

BOSTON (SHNS) – The people of Massachusetts voted to outlaw dog racing and betting on dog racing 13 years ago but the voters’ will has been at least partially unfulfilled since, a longtime activist told lawmakers Monday as she again called for the end of simulcast wagering here on dog races.

Christine Dorchak, president of Grey2K USA Worldwide and the drafter of the 2008 ballot law that banned dog racing, was back before the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Monday to support a bill (S 177) that her organization supports for two main reasons — “First, to honor the will of the voters. And secondly, to stop betting on Mexican dog races,” she said.

The prohibition on live dog racing approved on the 2008 ballot took effect in 2010, but races held in other states and countries are still regularly simulcast into Massachusetts for bettors to wager on at a handful of simulcasting centers. Forty-one states have now banned live dog racing, leading to an increase in international races simulcast into Massachusetts, Dorchak said.

“They’ve run out of American races to take bets on for the most part, so now they’re turning to taking the signal from Mexico. I’ve heard from one of the track owners that he’d like to expand to other countries as well. This is a problem because there are no humane protections for the animals in these other countries,” she said. “Additionally, the integrity of the betting is suspect. There is just no regulation for the dog or the bettor at these facilities. And it is against the will of the voters of Massachusetts to support and subsidize the cruelty of dog racing, whether it’s here or outside this country.”

The 2008 ballot question passed handily with the support of 56 percent of voters. It prevailed in 12 of 14 counties and 290 of 351 cities and towns. Dorchak said an initial extension for simulcasting was granted so simulcast centers could “upgrade in order to allow the owners to apply for casino licenses.” Even though none were granted gaming licenses, the extensions have persisted.

“Massachusetts has continued to extend an exemption authorizing simulcasting wagering on greyhound races occurring in other states and in other countries. That first extension was in 2010, it was supposed to have been for seven months and they’re still extending it,” Sen. Cynthia Creem, who filed the bill in question, said. “What does that say? That says that the voters here in Massachusetts voted to not allow the racing of greyhounds because it was cruel, but it’s OK if you use those same cruel practices somewhere else and we can just watch it. I don’t believe the voters ever thought that was going to happen.”

The House recently went on record supporting the end of simulcast wagering on dog races. Representatives included an amendment to end the practice in the sports betting bill they passed over the summer. There has been far less interest in legalizing sports betting among Senate leaders, but Creem’s standalone bill would give senators a vehicle to address the dog racing issue without necessarily tying it to sports betting.

Though the 2008 question passed easily, a similar effort narrowly lost on the 2000 ballot. That year, 51 percent of voters rejected a ballot question that would have banned dog racing and simulcast wagering.

Grey2K USA Worldwide said that dog racing is already illegal in 41 states and that Arkansas and Iowa have publicly announced plans to end the activity by next year. “West Virginia, with two failing tracks, remains the only jurisdiction to embrace the activity,” the organization said in a fact sheet on Creem’s bill.

The amount of money wagered on greyhound races simulcast from other states or countries “has been decimated and will undoubtedly continue to plummet” as other dog tracks around the country phase out their live operations, the group said. Grey2K USA Worldwide, citing data obtained from the Mass. Gaming Commission through a public records request, said that about $50 million was wagered in Massachusetts on simulcast dog races in 2008 compared to a little more than $10 million in 2020.

The organization said ending simulcast dog races will not eliminate simulcast center jobs since those facilities continue to broadcast and take bets on horse races. Horse races account for more than 75 percent of the simulcast betting in Massachusetts, the group said.

Monday’s hearing of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee lasted less than 15 minutes and attracted only testimony from Dorchak and Creem. No one, including its sponsors, offered testimony on a horse racing revitalization bill (S 2535) to, among other things, create a state racing board within the Gaming Commission.

There has been no Thoroughbred horse racing in Massachusetts since Suffolk Downs ran its last race in June 2019, though the standardbred industry continues to run harness racing at Plainridge Park Casino.

Lawmakers carved out a funding source in the 2011 casino law to help grow the horse racing industry but the industry, lawmakers and regulators have not coalesced around any individual proposal to revive the sports of kings in the Bay State.

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