Like most people, Lynn Bunn was fixated on Nov. 6 election results.
Unlike most people, it wasn’t O’Rourke vs. Cruz that caught her attention, nor any of the national politics that captivated so much of the country.
Rather, Bunn, a Galveston resident, was fixated on a constitutional amendment in Florida, which would ban greyhound racing across the Sunshine State.
Voters passed the ban by a gigantic margin, 69 percent to 31 percent. But it didn’t leave Bunn, who owns two retired greyhounds, Penelope Garcia and Remington, with happy feelings.
“My heart sunk,” she said.
The Florida decision will close 11 greyhound tracks in that state. That amounts to almost two-thirds of the greyhound tracks in the United States. It could very well be a death-knell for the industry, which has seen 50 tracks close nationwide over the past 30 years.
Among the businesses that could now be in jeopardy is La Marque’s Gulf Greyhound Park, 1000 FM 2004, a 26-year-old track that has faced financial headwinds in recent years as the sport’s fan base shrank and objections to it grew.
The amendment was a victory for groups that have advocated for closing tracks for decades, with arguments the sport is inherently abusive to the animals.
The Florida campaign against greyhound racing was led by advocacy groups like Grey2K USA Worldwide, which has pushed for a nationwide ban on the activity for years.
Christine Dorchak, the group’s president and one of the drafters of Amendment 13 on Florida ballots, said passage of the ban was the organization’s signature victory after 20 years of work.
After Florida, the organization will continue to pursue bans in other states, Dorchak said. Even without that, the closure of Florida tracks means tracks like Gulf Greyhound will have fewer races to simulcast when they don’t have live racing, she said.
That will hurt the bottom lines of tracks around the country and in Texas, where simulcasting has grown to be the main revenue stream, she said.
“It’s clear that Texas racing depends on Florida simulcasting,” she said. “With the phase out of live dog racing in Florida, this will leave Texas in quite the precarious position.”
Three greyhound tracks are left in Texas, including La Marque’s Gulf Greyhound Park, which last year restarted dog racing after relying on simulcasting alone for two years as state regulators revamped the way races could be run in Texas.
Under the agreement, Gulf Greyhound rotates its races with tracks in Harlingen and Corpus Christi. Racing in Galveston County is scheduled to restart in December and continue through February, said Sally Briggs, general manager of Gulf Greyhound Park.
Briggs said she didn’t think the Florida ban would immediately affect the events of the Texas track. After last week’s vote, she checked with tracks in Florida and confirmed most don’t plan to close until 2020 at the earliest, which means simulcasts will continue at Gulf Greyhound until then, she said.
“There are no impacts on us right now,” Briggs said Tuesday.
Briggs was less sure about the future. The track will stay open — but has no confirmed race dates after February. The track will continue to look for alternative revenue streams such as renting its parking lot for special events, she said.
“Who knows what the state is going to do,” Briggs said. “We’ll be open for simulcast and we have a lot of things in the parking lot. We’ll keep on going with all of that.”
The vote and the campaign behind it caused passionate feelings. While animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States supported it, some greyhound-specific groups allied with the racing industry to defend the tracks and their continued existence.
Those groups include people like Bunn, who sees the racing industry as a kind of quality control mechanism for the breed they love, and argues modern racetrack policies differ from the days when animals were killed in larger numbers.
Bunn’s dogs, which she adopted through a Webster group, benefited from being raised among other greyhounds and within the racing industry, she said. The dogs are known for being fast runners, but also for their gentle personalities.
With the passage of the Florida ban, she worried that people would continue to breed greyhounds, but now have nowhere to put them, which would degrade the breed, she said.
“I think my biggest concern, and I know a lot of people share this, is that it’s going to represent a totally different dog,” Bunn said. “They are what they are because of what they do.”