As society turns a critical eye toward animal rights issues and the humane treatment of living things, global legal systems have met the people’s dismay with mixed responses. Greyhound racing provides a good case study into the way governments respond to growing public concerns. Over the past several decades, many animal rights lobbyist groups and international coalitions have worked to alert the public as to the harms associated with commercialized dog racing. In some countries, the legal system has kept in step with public disapproval of dog-racing. In other countries, public outcries have been raised, but the government has continued to implicitly prioritize the economic and cultural benefits of dog-racing by “reforming” rather than banning the activity. Concerned individuals have organized in their own ways, and financial support for the sport has begun to dwindle even where it is fully legal. Other countries still have no laws whatsoever regarding greyhound racing and humane treatment of dogs, and continue to let gambling run rampant without regulating the industry. While each country is entitled to handle the legality of gambling in its own way, the reality with animal rights issues is that one country’s decision affects others greatly, as “retired” race-dogs are often adopted and rescued across borders due to the tremendous quantities bred in countries that support racing.
Across the globe, the prominence and popularity of dog-racing has declined steeply. Greyhound-racing spread internationally as early as the 16th century, and it maintained a steady presence as a popular form of gambling throughout the 20th century. Although not all greyhound breeders and tracks utilize unethical practices, many regions have become aware of the risks, abuses, and harms that come with the breeding and keeping of many dogs for human entertainment. Dogs are injured while racing, some breeders euthanize dogs that don’t have winning prospects, and animals are often kept in less than desirable conditions while serving their time on the racetracks. Countries differ in their treatment and handling of the dogs, regulation of the breeding processes, and oversight of the industry, but politicians globally have been made aware of the risks through media and lobbying groups which bring the conversation of legality and cruelty into legal spheres across the world.
Only seven countries around the world still have legal greyhound racing: the U.S., Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Vietnam, and Mexico. Between 2001 and 2014, gambling on greyhound races nationwide declined by 70%. As greyhound racing has become a part of local culture in several regions of the world, countries and states have taken different approaches in reforming, outlawing, and closing racetracks. The rapid closure of tracks has resulted in an influx of dogs needing homes in certain areas, which can lead to additional mistreatment, neglect, and even killing of these dogs. As the world tackles these issues, countries are given the opportunity to demonstrate their responses to known public concerns.
In 2021, Congress introduced H.R. 3335, an amendment to the Wire Act, prohibiting any wire communications connected to commercial greyhound racing. Adopting this Act, known as “The Greyhound Protection Act of 2021,” is one of the final steps the U.S. must take in the process of fully outlawing dog racing. The U.S. is currently home to only 2 active dog racing tracks. For these tracks, approximately 2,000 greyhounds are still bred to race. Although this is a significant improvement over the 26,000 hounds bred 20 years ago, the excess of greyhounds bred for racing will still lead to many unnecessary deaths in the U.S..
Only eight U.S. states still technically allow legalized greyhound racing, and only West Virginia has open tracks. Florida, Arkansas, and West Virginia are three of the most recent states to tackle this issue. Florida, which was once the “heart, lungs, and legs of the industry,” home to 2/3 of the country’s racetracks, passed an amendment to their constitution in November 2018 that ceased operations at all remaining tracks. This amendment completely shut down greyhound racing as of 2020 in Florida, without the intervention of the federal “Greyhound Protection Act.” Florida was the first U.S. state to legalize pari-mutuel betting and dog-racing in 1931, and the sport was once widely supported by the Floridian public. The amendment, which passed by a 2:1 landslide, is demonstrative of how dramatically the American sentiment towards dog-racing has changed.
In Arkansas, people have been more hesitant to accept changing attitudes around dog-racing, and the local laws reflect that hesitation. Greyhound racing in Arkansas has gone on for over 100 years, and many have built their livelihoods around the dogs. The state economy has benefited tremendously from gambling for years, bringing in around $30 million annually. Although there has been no formal rulemaking in Arkansas on the state of their racetracks, one of the primary remaining racetracks in Arkansas, Southland Casino, has agreed to phase out the racing over the next three years. Dave Wolf, president of Southland, reasons that the sport has primarily been supported by older clientele and was beginning to shrink naturally. This decision comes with a lot of emotion for Arkansans, considering the track opened in 1935 upon the legalization of pari-mutuel betting, and has housed greyhounds ever since. Even without formal legislation, it seems that Arkansas naturally moved in the direction of eliminating dog racing, and recognized that the pros do not outweigh the cons of this industry. This shows that even without government intervention, media and lobbying pressure can make a tremendous impact on public issues.
West Virginia is the only U.S. state that still has active commercial greyhound racing in 2022. West Virginia continues to house two tracks, which run races five days a week year-round. The president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association claims that the state is intent on keeping the sport going. Several other U.S. states continue to stream the races from West Virginia into their casinos, finding a loophole in the illegalization in their states. If the Greyhound Protection Act were to pass in Congress, West Virginia would be forced to close the remaining tracks, and any simulcasting or gambling on dogs in other countries would also become illegal in the U.S.. Forcing this decision onto West Virginia, besides raising federalism concerns, could also raise concerns for the dogs as the tracks would likely close rapidly with little cooperation, leaving many dogs without homes. The best course of action for the dogs, and the employees dependent on the race-tracks, would be to introduce a “phasing out” system as Arkansas took on, to avoid the sudden bottoming out of the industry. Overall, it appears dog-racing in the U.S. is well on its way to legal extinction, but the final step to cover West Virginia and the virtual space will likely require federal action.
In Australia, wagering on greyhound racing is on the rise. The country has seen an increase from a $4.4 billion dollar industry in 2017, to a $7.7 billion dollar industry in 2021. It is reported that between 13,000-17,000 healthy greyhounds are killed due to “wastage” from racing each year in Australia. Australian greyhound racing receives financial support from state governments. The ACT (Australian Capital Territory), permanently banned greyhound racing in 2018 in response to the public, but other Australian states have made no indication that they will follow.
There is some Australian legislation regarding dog-racing on the national level, namely the Greyhound Racing Act 2017, and its 2021 Amendment. The Act serves to regulate the industry, making rules around dog registration and track-safety, but does not aim to ban or downsize the industry. One of the objects of the Act, 3A(e), is to ensure the integrity of greyhound racing in the public interest. This object appears to mismatch the Australian public’s perception of the sport when you look at media reports. Several anti-racing petitions, marches, and protests have spread across the country, but as the 2021 Amendment seems to confirm by containing no mention of slowing down the industry, Australia is not looking towards a ban at this time. Greyhound racing in Australia is most popular in areas where it has become an opportunity for social connection. So long as the public continues to support the $7 billion dollar industry financially and socially, it appears there is not enough incentive for the Australian government to renounce the sport.
Greyhound racing is one of few legal gambling options in Vietnam. The country has one venue, the Lam Son Stadium, that houses the racing. Racing started at this stadium in 2000, and the company received a 25-year license to operate the circuit and facilitate bets, which is set to expire in 2024. The dogs are imported from Australian racetracks and are trained and raced in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government and Ministry of Tourism rely on greyhound racing to attract tourists, and the sport is promoted as a family friendly experience, featuring ice cream, cotton candy, and a petting zoo of greyhound puppies. The gambling is controlled by a sole private company that also sets the guidelines and rules surrounding the safety of the dogs.
Vietnamese dog-racing is one of the least-regulated iterations of this industry. The dogs are imported into the country, so they are bred using Australian regulations, but little information can be found on the actual safety protocols that exist within Vietnam for the dogs. Media reports seem to indicate that there have been numerous incidents involving the inhumane treatment and abuse of the race dogs, but there has not been much in the way of public protest reported. Additionally, several rescue organizations work to adopt and rescue greyhounds internationally, which demonstrates the international impact of keeping the sport legal, as there is no program within Vietnam for finding the dogs’ homes after retirement or injury. Vietnam already has a population of about 7.3 million dogs, and the streets are full of stray animals. Greyhounds only race for approximately 4 years, so the dogs move through the system very quickly, and even if they do lead successful racing careers, they quickly need homes regardless. Continuing dog-racing in Vietnam will only continue to bring more and more of these animals into the unsustainable and overcrowded environment, purely for human entertainment.
Without internal or international pressure, and with the continued support of tourists and locals visiting the racetrack in Vietnam, the Vietnamese government does not appear to have an incentive to stop greyhound racing. International animal rights organizations have reported on the world of Vietnamese dog-racing, but the social pressure does not seem to compare to that put on international counterparts.
Greyhound racing in Ireland happens on 16 active tracks controlled by the Irish Greyhound Board, a “semi-state” body supported by the national Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. This fund has paid out over 250 million euros to greyhound racing in the past two decades. The Irish Greyhound Board advertises the welfare and safety of the dogs as a priority of theirs, however, there have been several incidents reported by Irish media of inhumane and cruel treatment in recent years. In 2019, an “RTE Investigates” program was shared across the country, which raised concerns and alerted citizens to the reality that thousands of dogs were being “culled” yearly based on poor racing performance. Culling is an industry term for the killing of unneeded or under-performing dogs. In response to this program many demanded that the state stop funding the “horrors of the industry,” but the Irish Greyhound Board instead promised to use some of their resources towards reforming the industry.
The RTE exposé did have some financial impact on the industry, with greyhound track attendance dropping by 20%, and the stadium portfolio of the Greyhound Board dropping in value by nearly 20 million euro. Economic experts in Ireland recommended the closure of 4 tracks as a result of the decrease in profits, and the remaining tracks are all being evaluated this year. The Irish government, however, has elected not to diminish the Greyhound Board budget and continues to focus on reform rather than elimination of the sport. The decline of greyhound racing in Ireland is therefore a good example of the people of a nation influencing the political and legal landscape without any government support. The spread of information through the media in Ireland has resulted in an economic impact that puts the future of greyhound racing in Ireland at stake without any government intervention.
While governments vary in their level of support towards ending dog racing – with some going as far as to fund and support the industry, and others eliminating, banning, or phasing out the sport – the commercialized racing of greyhounds continues to have an international impact. When one country, or even one state within a country, continues to race dogs – other countries can stream, gamble, and support the industry remotely. Beyond that, the number of dogs required to be bred for even one racetrack results in thousands of dogs needing homes, which is often more than local populations can support. The likelihood of culling and neglect of unneeded dogs creates a tremendous risk of healthy dogs losing their lives, which is more than a local issue.
Comparing the U.S., Australia, Vietnam, and Ireland shows that slowing down the industry is a two-fold process – fueled by almost equal parts public awareness and government support. In places like the U.S., public outcry led to a domino effect, effectively peer-pressuring states into following suit, with the remaining areas being addressed by federal action. In Australia and Ireland, the government funds dog-racing, but the two countries provide an excellent contrast to show that when the people decide to stop supporting an industry financially, they can make a significant impact. Finally, in countries such as Vietnam, where the government shows little interest in regulating the greyhound racing industry and leaves control up to private parties, heightened internal or even international pressure may be required to regulate, and perhaps eventually ban the racing for the sake of the dogs.