by Ray Poirier | Pressure from activist groups and a general decline in popularity has caused many greyhound racetracks to close around the country. And two remaining tracks in Massachusetts may soon succumb, as well.
When George Reynolds and Louis Lobel ran Wonderland Park in Revere, Massachusetts, four or five decades ago, the greyhounds attracted so many fans that often the parking lots were closed for lack of available space.
Almost as popular were the tracks in Raynham, operated by George Carney and his associates, and in Taunton, where Boston liquor distributor and philanthropist Joe Lindsey presided.
During those days, the greyhound pari-mutuel facilities competed with thoroughbreds, mostly in the afternoons, and trotters, usually a night-time activity. Still thousands of fans poured into the greyhound tracks to wager on their favorite dogs.
Of course, this was long before the introduction of simulcasting and, in fact, it also preceded lotteries and more recently casinos.
The expansion of gambling opportunities in New England and in other states has led to the demise of the greyhound sport. Some have called it a cultural change.
Recently, Gary Guccione, executive director of the National Greyhound Association, remarked, "It’s certainly changing. Greyhound racing has downsized in recent years. We’ve seen a decrease in the number of tracks and dogs being bred."
In the 1980s, Guccione said, there were more than 50,000 greyhounds bred each year to race at about 60 tracks. Now there are only about half as many tracks with fewer than 20,000 dogs being bred.
According to the Committee to Protect Dogs, some 13 U.S. tracks have closed or ended live dog racing since 2004.
For some tracks, such as Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac, Kansas, it has become a matter of competition and a high tax rate on the recently proposed slot machines.
Phil Ruffin, former owner of the New Frontier Hotel/Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, said last week that he doubted anyone in Kansas would want to compete against the tribal casino, even if they were able to get financing during the current credit crunch.
So come Election Day, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to ban greyhound racing and force the closure of the two remaining tracks.
Long forgotten will be the nights when some 20,000 fans would stand shoulder-to-shoulder and cheer when the announcer shouted, "There goes Swifty."