Submitted by Grey2KUSA.com, Protecting Greyhounds Nationwide
By Amy B. Wang, AZCentral.com
Phoenix Greyhound Park, one of three remaining dog tracks in the state, plans to shut down by the end of the year.
In a letter to the Arizona Department of Racing on Thursday, track officials said the park would remain open for live racing until Dec. 19, continue to simulcast races until Dec. 31, then shift some of its simulcast operations to Apache Greyhound Park in Apache Junction.
"As you can imagine, it's budget time for a lot of businesses, and this is our budget time," said Dan Luciano, Phoenix Greyhound Park general manager. "Nobody's going to be happy."
The Phoenix park, near Washington and 40th streets, opened in 1954 and runs live races seven days a week. The business has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including increased competition from casinos, declining revenue and dwindling visitor numbers.
Attendance at the track dropped 14 percent last year to about 106,000 annual visitors and has declined 56 percent since 1998, according to its annual reports.
As attendance dropped, so did revenue. In 2008, Phoenix Greyhound Park's annual pari-mutuel revenue - the amount of total bets wagered on all live and simulcast races at the complex - fell by nearly 17 percent, to about $46.4 million. Just 10 years ago, in 1998, it was nearly $100 million.
"It's not much of a shock. The writing's been on the wall for a while," said Clifton Gray, head trainer at Arivada Kennels, adjacent to the racetrack. "You knew the way things were going this year, they were going to have to make wholesale changes."
One last-ditch proposal to state lawmakers to turn the track into a "racino" failed to gain traction during the Legislature's special session this summer. The plan would have allowed horse and dog tracks to operate slot machines, video gambling and poker tables on-site; in exchange, they would have given 45 percent of the proceeds to the state.
"It was part of a potential budget-helping exercise," said Gibson McKay, a lobbyist for the track. "I don't know that it garnered the support it needed at that time, but we remain open and will vigilantly pursue it, if need be. But that doesn't change the current situation."
The park will retain its racetrack license in case the racinos proposal passes in a future legislative session.
Track officials have "been trying to get us to stay positive about the possibility of slots next year, but that's a long way off," Gray said.
Calls to representatives at Delaware North Cos., which owns both Phoenix Greyhound Park and Apache Greyhound Park, were not immediately returned Friday.
Track officials broke the news Friday to its employees and kennel owners and operators. The closing would affect about 120 to 140 park employees involved in live-racing operations, as well as dozens of peripheral workers, such as kennel owners and dog handlers.
In addition to the layoffs, it may be difficult to find homes for the hundreds of greyhounds that regularly race at Phoenix Greyhound Park. Arivada Kennels boards 84 greyhounds, down from the usual 110 or so.
"We've been trying to keep our numbers to a minimum," Gray said. "We have not missed a chance to adopt a dog out in the last couple months."
Luciano said that the park would work with kennels to place greyhounds at other tracks, return them to their owners as pets or facilitate adoptions.
Gray said that "unless some sort of a miraculous injunction happens between now and then," he would use the opportunity to get out of the dog-racing business.
"I'm going to have to give up the only thing I've ever loved doing in my life," he said, "but there's no track in the country right now that is on stable ground."