No on Question Three

There is no call to legislate morality on the matter of dog racing

The Web site of the Massachusetts Animal Interest Coalition (MAIC), a group established to oppose the passage of ballot Question 3—which would ban gambling on dog races across the state —presents a number of arguments against the initiative. It reminds readers of the thousand jobs tied to dog racing within state borders, disputes the claim that dogs are mistreated under current sport regulations and cites a rate of fatality below one percent for the state’s 2066 racing greyhounds in the past calendar year. With a few exceptions, the many arguments advanced by MAIC against Question 3 are compelling ones.

More convincing, though, is the argument they don’t make. MAIC’s opponent, the group known as Grey2K responsible for supporting the ballot initiative, notes on their website that in Massachusetts, dog racing is already ceasing to be a real concern. At the state’s two dog tracks, they observe, gambling revenues have dropped 65 and 37 percent in the last five years. In Revere, where one of those tracks is located, city officials are beginning the process of foreclosure: The management of Wonderland Greyhound Park has evidently failed to pay almost $790,000 in taxes since 2006.

Greyhound racing may die a death in Massachusetts, perhaps very soon. But there is no evidence that hastening its decline by coercive state intervention is the ideal, let alone a necessary, way to facilitate that decline. What is troubling about Question 3 is not the intention that guides its supporters, but rather the philosophy and predisposition that govern its practical form.

Massachusetts is one of just 16 states to permit dog racing inside its borders, but it does so with a healthy dose of oversight. For example, since 2001, state law has mandated that a veterinarian be on duty to examine greyhounds before and after each race, that dog droppings must be removed daily from the kennel area, and that the state racing commission should address every complaint of greyhound abuse. Between 2005 and 2006, just 0.15 percent of this state’s racing dogs left the track with an injury—a proportion more than ten times smaller than were injured in girls’ high school softball in the same year.

With this environment in mind, the proponent arguments for Question 3 seem grounded more clearly in classism than altruism. Dog racing—its once-pernicious impact minimized by the aforementioned regulation and adoption programs—remains entangled in a network of negative connotations, some of which have been exploited to advance Question 3 and other measures like it in the past. In reality, the practice has become no more detrimental or exploitative than thoroughbred racing or many another professional sports. The precedent set by banning an activity based on a limited perception that it is distasteful or repugnant is a far bigger risk for Massachusetts than the perpetuation of a sport that brings a sizable contingent of residents both enjoyment and employment.

Massachusetts voters should appreciate our right to submit ballot questions to change the way our state is run, and Question 3’s proposed ban is a matter for legitimate discussion. We must, however, also take care to wield that power carefully—a responsibility that makes this particular initiative seem hasty and unjustified. Next Tuesday, we must allow prudence to trump perpetual intervention, and trust all of our citizens to make responsible decisions about their leisure time.

If, in coming years, state residents vote definitively against dog racing with their wallets—as they seem to be doing already—then the matter will be settled. Until then, better to let sleeping dogs lie—or racing dogs run.