For decades, Massachusetts dog tracks were treated differently from other businesses.
In their early years, they were given a monopoly on gambling in our state. Later, they were given the right to conduct simulcast wagering and account wagering. They received various tax breaks, and were even given special trust funds to pay for advertising and interior decorators. Somehow, the dog tracks managed to get their way time and again.
Additionally, this pro-racetrack bias was often reflected in much of the mainstream media. For example, a few years ago I was told by a reporter at a major Boston newspaper that he could no longer report legitimate stories on this issue, because his editor had made it clear that there was no interest in reporting news that would cast the dog tracks in a negative light. This occurred after a well-researched and newsworthy story was pulled the day before it was to be published.
That is not to say that this issue wasn’t covered fairly by some. Without question, many reporters covered this issue objectively and accurately. But on the whole, the media covered dog racing stories with a pro-racetrack bent.
This is why we placed the Greyhound Protection Act on the ballot in the Fall of 2008: it was clear that state lawmakers were never going to seriously confront the humane problems in the greyhound racing industry. Nor could we count on the media to report on these humane issues.
So we took this issue directly to the people. We gave voters verifiable facts on dog racing in Massachusetts, and asked them to make a humane choice. Many of these facts were sourced to the Massachusetts racetracks themselves. Other sources included the Massachusetts State Racing Commission and credible news reports.
We showed voters photographs and video footage documenting greyhound confinement that had been taken by Wonderland Greyhound Park in 2006 and 2007. We showed them actual state greyhound injury reports, which documented 832 greyhound injuries at Massachusetts dog tracks between 2002 and 2008. Nearly 80% of these reported injuries were broken legs. We showed voters actual collisions sustained by greyhounds racing in Massachusetts, footage that was taken by Wonderland and Raynham Park.
Meanwhile, the No on 3 campaign spent roughly the same amount on advertising as we did. Their ads featured track workers, who told voters that if the Greyhound Protection Act passed they would lose their jobs, and suffer real harm.
The voters listened to both sides, and on election day overwhelmingly voted Yes for the dogs. Question 3 passed by 12 percentage points, and was approved in nearly 290 cities and towns from one end of the state to the other.
Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help track workers with their transition. We included a 14-month phase out period in the Greyhound Protection Act to address this issue. Further, both before and after the election, we worked with greyhound-friendly lawmakers to file bills that would have provided retraining assistance to track workers, and also urged the executive branch to address this issue. Today, we remain committed to these efforts, and believe that this is an area where all sides of the dog racing debate should set aside our differences and work together.
But even after the people spoke, the Beacon Hill insiders and much of the mainstream media still don’t get it.
As a state, we have a proud tradition as a leader on humane issues, and the passage of the Greyhound Protection Act continues that tradition. In a generation, most people will look back with dismay at the thought that greyhound racing was ever allowed in Massachusetts in the first place.
Lawmakers, reporters, pundits, and political candidates, take a hint: it’s not Valentine’s Day, and your Wonderland Crush is a little unbecoming. We know you think Wonderland is dreamy, but just try to remember that most Massachusetts voters believe dog racing was a mistake, and are happy to see Wonderland finally close.