Saturday, March 10, 2012

All bets are off

Back when the end of greyhound racing was being discussed in Massachusetts, it was clear that the dog tracks had no reason to stay open except in the hopes of getting broader gaming licenses for slots or full-blown casinos. I wrote to the governor back then asking that he simply let them trade in the racing licenses for slots licenses, even though I’d rather have neither around us.

The dog track owners insisted that greyhound racing was critically important for various reasons (social, economic, cultural), just as they’ve argued in other states. The same track owners had spent decades falsely insisting that greyhounds were vicious by nature and unfit as pets. Widespread public adoption of former racing greyhounds would have led to widespread public scrutiny of how the tracks were mistreating greyhounds, as it eventually did. Instead, racing dogs had routinely been killed when their racing careers were over (at one to five years old). Greyhound racing was a brutal and dishonest industry.

In Massachusetts, we closed down the dog tracks. In several other states, they gave the dog tracks broader gaming licenses on the condition that they keep racing greyhounds as much as 6 days a week. After all, the track owners had all these compelling arguments for the importance of greyhound racing. It didn’t matter that there was no longer any real audience, or that the dogs were going to continue to be mistreated, frequently injured, and sometimes killed.

Now that the dog tracks have their broader gaming licenses in those states, the track owners would like to keep their horse OTB, their slots, and their casinos, and close down the greyhound racing. Greyhound advocates who have been struggling to shut down greyhound racing are confused by having these new allies. I imagine that state officials who believed the track owners when they were passionately arguing for preserving greyhound racing are confused as well.

I’m conflicted about what the right response is. The track owners are admitting that they got their gaming licenses by lying. The lying is bad but common. Admitting it is good and uncommon. But if we don’t punish them for lying even when they admit it, then how do we convince anyone that lying is wrong? But if we punish them for admitting it while turning a blind eye to everyone else who is lying, then are we really serving the cause of greater honesty?

The one thing I’m certain of is that the wrong response, even though it’s the easy response, is to force them to keep the greyhounds racing. That just punishes the dogs along with the track owners, and the dogs deserve better. They always have.

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