Lawmaker renews push to ban dog racing

Florida voters may get to decide if dog racing should be banned in the state in 2018.  A Hillsborough County senator is pushing to shut down the 12 dog tracks in Florida, including ones in Sarasota and St. Petersburg.

Dog racing is already banned in 40 states. For over a decade, some Florida lawmakers have fought to end greyhound racing.

"Every year there's been a bill, and it always gets tripped up by a special interest group who either hijacks it for leverage on another issue or simply doesn't want to see it happen," said Senator Tom Lee of Brandon.

Lee wants to take the issue out of the hands of politicians and let citizens decide. He filed a constitutional amendment this week proposing a plan to phase out dog racing in Florida over the next three years.

He said he made the decision based off of recommendation from people he spoke to within the industry.

"They believe that if we phased it out immediately, a lot of these dogs would just simply get shot," said Lee.

Animal rights advocates have argued that racing greyhounds are mistreated, confined to kennels and some are given drugs to perform better.

Back in May, the state revoked the license of Malcolm McAllister, a veteran greyhound trainer in St Pete with 40 years of experience. Six of McAllister's dogs tested positive for cocaine.

Kennel owner Calvin Holland said on Friday that McAllister does not represent the rest of their industry.

"He is banned from greyhound racing and he'll never, ever own another dog," insisted Holland.

Holland, who races his greyhounds at Derby Lanes in St. Pete, said his dogs are treated with care and placed in good homes as pets once they retire from the track.

"When they adopt a dog, they get them when they're spayed or neutered, their teeth are clean, they have all of their shots and they are not abused," said Holland.

Holland, who has five generations of dog racers in his families, does not want to see his industry forced out of Florida. 

According to Senator Lee, the business is also costing the state money in order to regulate it.

"There's about $11 million that's generated every year in tax revenue through dog racing, and it costs the state closer to $15 million to cover the cost of that dog racing. It's a net operating loss for the state."

Lobbyists for the industry have said that ending dog racing would put thousands of Floridians out of work. 

Lee said it's a matter of putting ethics before profit.

"There are a lot of things that generate revenue and jobs that we could offer up in statute, but that doesn't necessarily make them the right thing to do in a society like ours," said Lee.

Two-thirds of the members of the Constitution Revision Commission would need to vote in favor of Senator Lee's proposal in order for it to be sent to a ballot for voters to decide in 2018.