Just days before a celebration to mark the 44th anniversary of its opening, owners of Mobile Greyhound Park announced the end of live greyhound racing at the facility. The last day of live action is set for Saturday, Aug. 19.
Wind Creek Hospitality and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians made the announcement on July 31. Each employee was notified personally of the decision before the news release was posted.
“In response to declining market demand, Mobile Greyhound Park (MGP) will eliminate live races at our park at the end of August,” the news release stated. “We will continue to offer simulcast of races originating from other locations.
“In 1991 there were 62 active greyhound tracks unsupported by other forms of gaming. Today, Mobile Greyhound Park is only one of two. Of course, this will bring changes for team members and kennels currently serving MGP.”
Magi Williams, the public relations manager for Wind Creek Hospitality, told Lagniappe the iconic building off Interstate 10’s Exit 13 would remain open even without the dogs.
Rumors that PCI Gaming Authority — an enterprise of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that purchased a controlling interest in 2009 — would move more gambling operations to the site are unfounded. Williams said Alabama law does not allow for that.
Unlike the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, the dog track is not located on reservation land. The casino in Atmore operates as a Class II gaming facility, where regulations require gaming machines in Alabama to be bingo-based or use pull tab-based technology.
“Electronic bingo is not available to us because it is prohibited by state law,” she said. “We do and will continue to offer betting on simulcast races and at our poker tables.”
The owner of VictoryLand, a former live greyhound park in Macon County, has been fighting to offer electronic bingo at that facility. In 2013, state authorities seized 1,615 machines and $263,000 cash during a raid. Despite an unfavorable Alabama Supreme Court ruling, VictoryLand reopened with 500 machines in 2016. A recent review of VictoryLand’s Facebook page indicates gaming machines are in operation. VictoryLand still offers simulcast greyhound and thoroughbred wagering.
In a 2015 Lagniappe article, Mobile County Racing Commissioner Edward Menton said tracks without those additional revenues have consistently gone out of business around the country since the 1990s. Casino gambling in Mississippi and state lotteries have combined to cut into greyhound racing profits.
Approximately 30 employees will lose their jobs when racing ends. Some are being offered positions at other Wind Creek Hospitality facilities including Pensacola Greyhound Park and Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Atmore.
“We will continue to offer poker and simulcast as gaming options; the only thing going away is live racing,” Williams said. “We will also continue to employ the majority of our team members.”
Other entities could be affected by the decision. The Mobile County Racing Commission, which is tasked with regulating dog races and managing the tax revenue it generates, has employees who work directly with live racing dogs. Some of the tax revenue went to local municipalities, public education institutions and pension funds for first responders.
By 2015, more than $135 million in revenue had come from the greyhound park. The largest recipient at that time was the University of South Alabama, which had accepted $51 million in proceeds. Those yearly checks to USA, though, had fallen from $3 million in 1987 to just $41,000 by 2014.
The main attraction for more than four decades has been the greyhounds that chase Casey, the mechanical rabbit, around the dirt track.
“We also have plans in place to assist kennel owners with relocation, adoption and ongoing care of the approximately 400 greyhounds currently providing service to MGP,” the news release states. “Some of the animals may be moved to many different tracks around the country, including our Pensacola Greyhound Park. Some will be adopted into loving homes.
“We routinely place over 600 greyhounds each year through Mobile Greyhound Pet Adoption Kennel and we have relationships with approximately a dozen other adoption agencies across the country that will help with placement.”
Mobile Greyhound Park started its adoption program for retired racing dogs in 1992. Anyone interested in adopting a greyhound can phone The Mobile Greyhound Pet Adoption Kennel at 251-653-5000, ext. 102, for details.
The only live greyhound racing left in Alabama is at the Birmingham Race Course. In fact, Alabama is just one of six states where greyhound racing remains operational. According to Grey2K USA, a group that works to end greyhound racing, 40 states have declared the sport illegal. The states where tracks still exist are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia.