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Senate committee votes to tighten parimutuel loopholes and free the racing dogs

For the second year in a row, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee narrowly approved a bill to allow Florida's 16 remaining dog tracks to stop racing greyhounds and allow their facilities to operate only card rooms or slots casinos.

The bill, by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, gives each dog track the option of operating live racing and closes loopholes that have allowed the proliferation of other pari-mutuel permits by opening the door to a barrel racing track in Gretna and a summer jai alai permit for the owners of Magic City Casino.

"Those tracks that wish to continue to race will race,'' Sachs said. "It will be dictated by the market."

But, opponents said, the bill also gives the parimutuel industry free rein to use $7 million in existing tax credits to prop up their dying industry.

"It's just wrong to go ahead and say what got them the license because of dogs and now say, from a business standpoint, they don't want to race dog anymore,'' said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole.

The committee rejected an amendment by Jones that would have ended the tax credit the pari-mutuels receive if they fail to run live races. Under Sachs bill, passed by a 6-4 vote, each of the state's greyhound tracks would be allow to keep the $350,000 to $500,000 in annual tax credits and transfer their gambling permit to another location within each county, as long as it doens't impact another horse or dog track or jai alai fronton within 50 miles.

The committee also attempted to close the loopholes in existing state law,

The bill is heavily favored by animal rights advocates, who want to see Florida dismantle the industry and see the bill as the first step to do it.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, said he opposed the bill because he believes that voters were asked to authorize dog racing and should be asked if they want to take it away.