Resolve Your Differences, State Leaders Tell Iowa Dog Racing Officials

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Top leaders in the Senate and House said Thursday they have told both sides in an ongoing dispute over ending dog racing in Iowa to resolve their differences yet this session.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said any settlement between Iowa's greyhound industry and racetrack casinos in Council Bluffs and Dubuque that want to end live dog racing due to declining interest would have to ensure a "soft landing" financially for dog owners and employees whose jobs would be impacted.

"In the strongest possible ways, I have said to both sides in this discussion: 'It behooves you to find a resolution this year,'" Gronstal told reporters at his weekly news conference. "I think there are good-faith discussions going on."

At short time later, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, expressed the same sentiment that he "absolutely" would like to see the interested parties work out a proposal to resolve the situation.

A House committee has approved a measure that calls for ending dog racing and distributing money to the racing retirement fund to compensate dog owners and breeders. However, it is a version that likely won't move in the Senate if representatives are able to get it through the House.

Representatives of the two Iowa tracks have told lawmakers they are proposing an "unprecedented" $70 million buyout to end greyhound racing in Iowa.

An alternative approach also being proposed would provide a $95 million payout over seven years and would allow the Iowa Greyhound Association to pursue a new "racino" to continue live dog racing at a licensed Iowa gaming facility. But that idea appeared to have died in committee, leaving the issue in limbo.

Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, called the "racino" option "a tougher lift," Paulsen said that would idea would be a decision left to the state Racing and Gaming Commission and Gov. Terry Branstad has been cool to that idea given that attendance at dog races is down significantly and it appears to be a "dying industry."

Branstad recently said he will leave a decision about ending dog racing in Iowa up to the commission, too. However, he said that if dog racing is ended, the Iowans involved must be protected.

If racing is terminated, he wants it resolved in a way that is "fair to all parties" and "protects the interest of dog breeders and taxpayers."

He also said it doesn't make sense to open a track at Ottumwa, as has been proposed, at a time when the Waterloo track has been closed for years and the existing tracks want to close.

Ending dog racing has the backing of city leaders and economic development groups in Council Bluffs and Dubuque.

Betting on the races has been declining since 1989 and the amount bet at the two remaining tracks has decreased 97 percent from $186 million when it started in 1986 to less than $6 million in 2012.
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