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    Posted byadmin on Thursday, March 29 @ 09:24:09 EDT
    Contributed by admin

    Concord NH Monitor

    State House

    Effort to ban greyhound racing fails
    Vote's wide margin surprises both sides

    Monitor staff

    March 28. 2007 8:00AM

    The House rejected a bill yesterday that would have shut down the state's three greyhound tracks by mid-2009. The 198-138 margin surprised both sides.

    New Hampshire is one of 16 states with live greyhound racing. Past attempts to shut the tracks here failed to gain traction, but racing opponents - who mounted a significant campaign to inform lawmakers about the treatment of dogs and the relatively modest revenue live racing provides the state - thought this year would be different.

    Racing supporters said opponents overstated the treatment of the dogs and failed to account for the 500 people who work full-time or part-time jobs at New Hampshire's three dog tracks, in Hinsdale, Belmont and Seabrook. They also said the ban might create a glut of homeless greyhounds.

    Several racing opponents brought their rescued greyhounds to the State House for a last-minute appeal, greeting lawmakers yesterday with dogs clad in blankets urging support for the bill. Afterward, racing opponents said they were stunned by the 60-vote margin.

    "I was quite surprised," said Paul LaFlamme, a former lawmaker from Nashua who serves as a board member for Grey2K, a Massachusetts-based group that advocates for racing bans nationwide. "We thought we actually were going to have it pretty handily."

    David Calef, a spokesman for the Hinsdale track, said he was "surprised and pleased that it was not as close as we thought. I think somewhere along the line, people . . recognized that there isn't inhumane (treatment) and animal abuse going on, and we've been saying that all along. The problem is we haven't been saying it out front, and we should have been."
    Rep. Anne-Marie Irwin, a Peterborough Democrat, argued against the ban yesterday. She is the chairwoman of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee, which reviewed the bill and voted 14-3 to recommend rejecting the ban.

    Irwin said she entered the debate slightly skeptical about greyhound racing. "I love my dog, (and) I'm not an advocate of gambling," she said. But the hours of testimony before her committee about dog treatment proved inconclusive, she said. Also, she worried about the future of the track workers and the greyhounds after a ban. Lastly, a visit to Hinsdale secured her opposition. She found "playful, curious, wiggling" greyhounds, not diseased and injured dogs who recoiled from people, she said.

    "There are people who think dog racing is a good idea, and there are people who think dog racing is a bad idea. But that choice isn't what this bill is about," Irwin said. "Our choice here is to act responsibly to the people and the animals involved in this industry or to yield to the lobbying efforts of a heavily financed interest group that spends thousands of dollars in opposition but offers nothing either to the people or the animals."

    Among other efforts, Grey2K mailed full-color guides to all 424 New Hampshire lawmakers - including injury statistics and photos of kennel conditions - and held a luncheon at which humane-society officials, gambling opponents and others made the case against racing.

    George Roberts, a lobbyist for the Seabrook track, said he was pleased only a minority of lawmakers "bought the propaganda from Grey2K." Roberts, a former House speaker, took issue with the group's citing of the statistic that 716 dogs were injured at the tracks in 2005 and 2006, with 160 of the injuries severe enough to result in the dog's death or the end of its racing career. Of that 160, less than 10 percent died, while the rest healed and were sent out for adoption, Roberts said.

    Rep. Fran Wendelboe, who supported the ban, said it wasn't about the number of dogs killed or injured. All the greyhounds live year-round in small crates and are let out for only a short time each day to exercise, eat or drink water, she said.

    "Could you imagine having to sit in your seat for 23 hours? I mean, we can stand up, we can stretch. (These) dogs can't do that," she said. "A dog is man's best friend, and I don't think we should be making profit off their sacrifice and their hard life when we don't have to."

    Wendelboe tried to counter the argument from track supporters that the ban would jeopardize the 500 full- and part-time workers at the three tracks, who were paid roughly $5 million last year. For one thing, the bill would have created a study committee to examine ways to ease the transition after the ban would take effect in 2009. For another, Wendelboe said, lawmakers could keep the tracks in business by allowing them to become simulcast-only parlors.

    State law prohibits off-track betting but allows the greyhound tracks to offer simulcast gambling - dog and horse races carried on satellite TV from elsewhere in the country - as long as they run at least 50 days of live racing a year. In 2005-06, bettors in New Hampshire wagered $8 million on the live races at the three tracks, as compared with $200 million in simulcast races. The state's cut of that was $1.7 million in 2006, just $115,000 of which came from live wagers.

    Meanwhile, the state spent more than twice as much to provide drug testing and staff the races with Pari-Mutuel Commission veterinarians and inspectors. Doing away with live racing would benefit the tracks and the state, Wendelboe said. This "is not about protecting jobs," she said. "They feel (continued racing) gives them the first place at the table if this Legislature ever passed expanded gambling."

    Rep. Ken Weyler, a Kingston Republican, said the tracks provide a host of benefits, including paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in local property taxes a year and diversifying the "package of options" New Hampshire can offer tourists. He said the ban would have "unintended consequences," including possibly limiting sled-dog racing or field trials of non-greyhounds.

    LaFlamme said he didn't know when or if Grey2K would try again in New Hampshire. "Sixty votes is a lot to make up," he said.

    But Wendelboe said she would pursue other options this year through the trailer bill that accompanies the state budget. She said she hopes to include a variety of provisions, such as larger crates at the kennels and mandatory 24-hour veterinary care for the greyhounds.


    Monitor staff


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