Christie: Florida ban on greyhound racing could finally be going to the dogs

Florida voters look ready to ban greyhound racing by a supermajority vote, according to a new survey that shows the issue fares better at the polls if people identify the proposal with animal welfare instead of gambling. (Photo by David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to Proposal 67, which would phase out commercial greyhound racing in the state by 2020. The proposal will now go to the Style and Drafting Committee before returning to the full CRC for a final vote. If approved, it will appear on the November ballot.

Would Florida voters ban greyhound racing if a proposed constitutional amendment appeared on the November ballot?

According to a new survey released by animal rights group GREY2K USA, the answer is a solid “maybe” … that is, if the question focuses on animal welfare instead of anti-gambling.

RELATED: Poll: Florida voters favor Greyhound racing ban

The poll, which was shared and reported on by POLITICO Florida on Tuesday, showed a sampling of likely voters supported the measure, 65–27 percent. But POLITICO also reported that overall opposition remained flat. Support appeared to increase to about 70 percent after respondents were asked three questions in support and three questions in opposition to the proposed amendment.

The amendment, along with many others, is under consideration this week by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to decide which proposals will go before voters this fall.

Of course, supporters of ending Florida’s controversial tradition of tying gambling (pari-mutuel wagering) to greyhound racing are heartened by the poll results. At the same, opponents — such as our own Palm Beach Kennel Club — are somewhat dismissive.

The two sides have been warring over the issue for years, as wagering on greyhound racing has been declining. But supporters of a ban have been out-maneuvered largely by the fact that 12 tracks still operating in the state are concerned about being shut out of other, more profitable forms of gambling — like card games and slots — if they lose the dogs.

RELATED: Editorial: Require injury reports for racing greyhounds

Efforts at “decoupling” the two issues, championed by lawmakers from Okaloosa to Palm Beach counties over the years have died during the legislative session as Florida struggles with its “gambling-versus-family” image.

But animal rights groups may have finally found a way to tip the scales in their favor. Everyday folks really do care passionately about dogs.

“Floridians are deeply concerned about the humane issues including confinement, greyhound deaths and injuries,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA, told POLITICO Florida. “By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Florida voters are not moved at all by opposition arguments, including job claims. We gain support when it’s clear this is an animal welfare issue.”

Although commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states, Florida has been a particularly tough nut to crack with a majority of the nation’s 18 operational tracks located in the Sunshine State.

If the poll numbers hold up, the amendment would easily clear the 60 percent voter-approval threshold to become law in Florida.

Patrons at the Paddock Dining Room at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. (Photo by David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post)

That’s not likely to happen without a fight as breeders and kennel operators like Palm Beach Kennel Club, who insist that they take good care of their animals, call the proposed amendment a job-killer and “a backdoor way of expanding gambling” in the state.

The CRC, to avoid voters getting “ballot fatigue” from considering too many amendments, is also looking at combining disparate proposals on the ballot. This could be a good or bad thing depending on what the greyhound racing ban is coupled with, i.e. oil drilling, school board term limits or nursing homes.

Regardless, it’s looking as though voters will get a chance to vote on it. Take our poll here and tell us how you would vote: