The Colorado legislature wants to treat man’s best friend like a true BFF really would. A bill to ban greyhound gambling in Colorado unanimously passed the House Finance Committee earlier this month.
If signed into law, HB23-1041, “Prohibit Wagering on Simulcast Greyhound Races,” would make it illegal to “wager on any race of greyhounds that are conducted at, and simulcast from, a track that is outside of Colorado.”
However, as the bill stands, the ban would only apply to businesses that offer simulcast racing in off-track venues. It doesn’t restrict online gambling in Colorado.
HB23-1041 heads next to the House Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Colorado currently ranks as the 5th largest market for greyhound racing, behind these states:
- North Dakota
Coloradans bet over $22.3 million on greyhound racing last year. And over $18.4 million of that was on simulcast races, according to the Denver Post.
Colorado horse racing industry affected by bill
Live greyhound racing remained permissible in Centennial State until almost a decade ago. But no dogs had raced there since 2008. Then Colorado banned dog racing in 2014 with a bill signed by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper. Carey Theil, executive director of greyhound advocacy group Grey2KUSA, recently called it “a victory.”
But there was a crack in the 2014 law: It still allowed simulcasting.
Some, like HB23-1041 co-sponsor and House Majority Leader Monica Duran (D-Wheat Ridge), view continuing simulcast gambling as a mistake. “We outlawed live greyhound racing as a legislature nine years ago; however, we left a loophole in place that is, unfortunately, contributing to the suffering and deaths of dogs,” she recently told Courthouse News Service.
Still, the bipartisan bill met with some criticism in the House Committee on Business Affairs & Labor in January. Some horse breeders and horse racers decried that it would mean the loss of funding for horse races. That’s because dog betting that has funded a greyhound rescue program also contributes to the Horse Breeders’ and Owners’ Awards and Supplemental Purse Fund.
The bill’s sponsors compromised, so simulcasting could last until Oct.1, 2024. In the interim, Colorado’s horse racing industry can seek and hopefully secure alternate funding. But “taking this away will probably end our organization,” Howie Chavers of the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association told the Denver Post.
Several other states also ban greyhound simulcasting
If the bill becomes law, Colorado wouldn’t be the only state banning gambling on greyhound simulcasting from races in places like West Virginia, the UK, or Mexico. Both Kansas and Massachusetts did so last year.
And Oregon, which the Denver Post calls “a national hub for online wagering,” passed a law prohibiting gambling on greyhound races from states that have outlawed the activity.
Former state rep and greyhound advocate Claire Levy cautioned lawmakers in a letter about the effect — maybe even hypocrisy — of not passing the bill. “It is the same as banning dog fights and cockfights, yet allowing people to invest and keep the practice alive elsewhere.”
Controversy over greyhound racing
Greyhound racing has fallen so far out of favor in this country. As of January 2023, only West Virginia lets the dogs out to compete. WV state law requires that operator Delaware North keep its dog tracks running to maintain operating its two track-adjacent casinos.
Grey2KUSA’s Theil has pointed out that those remaining US tracks in West Virginia, along with some internationally, are “heavily dependent on this remote gambling from states like Colorado.”
In West Virginia, there’s a line between those who see greyhound racing as benign and a boon to the state and those who view the activity as cruel and unnecessary.
While oversight of race horses’ welfare seems to be improving, as even Theil agrees, he and others don’t see life getting better for the dogs. HB23-1041 cosponsor and Colorado House Minority Leader Mike Lynch (R- Wellington) said that he’d be happy to reincarnate as a racehorse “because they are treated so well, but that is not the case with greyhound racing.”
Thinking along the same lines as Levy, he added that “It seems disingenuous to ban racing here while still perpetuating the sport elsewhere through betting.” Pulling no punches, Catie Cryar, media relations manager for PETA, told Courthouse News Service the dogs “are treated like machines and then discarded like dishrags in this pathetic excuse of a ‘sport.’”
On the other hand, West Virginia greyhound breeder Steve Serras told WV Public Broadcasting that it’s in his business’ best interest for his dogs to be well cared for. And a Wheeling, WV veterinarian has said that she sees “minimal catastrophic injuries” among the racing dogs. Another attributed 10 greyhound deaths to pandemic staffing challenges.
Theil pointed out that “ten high school football players’ deaths would be unacceptable.”