After more than 60 years of live dog racing at Southland Casino Hotel in Arkansas, the final race concluded Saturday on New Year’s Eve.
In the last race ever at the West Memphis track, Smile N Mean It came from fourth place on the backstretch to sprint past Bodacious at the finish line. Smile N Mean It’s win paid $35.40. Glasgow Kiss finished third.
Though the dog track is closed at Southland, the casino and hotel will remain open.
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Nationwide Track Closings
The greyhound track’s closing in Arkansas on the final day of 2022 signaled a near end nationwide to what once had been a thriving industry.
Other recent track closings also have occurred across the country.
In May, the Iowa Greyhound Park at Dubuque closed after its final race, putting an end to dog racing in that state. Two years ago, a dozen dog tracks were shut down in Florida as the result of a voter initiative.
These closures leave West Virginia as the last state where bettors can wager in person on legal dog racing. The West Virginia tracks are in Wheeling and near Charleston.
Greyhound Racing Once Flourished
In places such as Tucson in 1909 and Houston in 1912 a mechanical rabbit was introduced for dogs to chase in competitions, but malfunctions created problems.
By 1919, the mechanical rabbit was improved and installed in Emeryville, California, at what is regarded as the “first proper greyhound track,” according to the Paris Review.
Over time, dog racing gained in popularity, reaching a peak in the 1980s with more than 50 tracks in 19 states, the Associated Press reported.
A decline in popularity began with the nationwide expansion of commercial casino gaming — and iGaming options such as online slots — and with increased pressure from animal rights advocates.
Racing fans contend greyhounds enjoy running, and, after retiring from competition, are adopted into loving households. Opponents argue the dogs are cooped up in cages and injured during races.
Revenue from wagering on dog racing fell from $3.5 billion in 1991 to $500 million in 2014, according to the Associated Press.
Racing’s Demise Prompts Mixed Reactions
In the weeks leading up the final “GREYT” race in Arkansas on Dec. 31, Southland held several promotions.
These promotions included a “Track Sand Keepsake Giveaway” and a bologna sandwich special on Friday nights in December. On the final day, guests could take advantage of a commemorative T-shirt giveaway and a $10 burger/hot dog, popcorn and drink special.
On Southland’s website, some fans applauded the end of dog racing. Others were disappointed.
A Facebook user identified as Bailey-Bradley Merritt wrote, “I have quite literally seen them euthanize a dog for only a broken leg that he acquired during a race. This is a good thing.”
“Now the dogs can rest and live longer,” wrote Ray Mott.
Facebook user Patricia Tira was unhappy about the track closure.
“Shame on you Southland,” she wrote. “This does nothing but hurt the dogs, the breed and the countless good people who cared for them. I’ve witnessed their lives first hand from birth to retirement, and pet dogs would be lucky to have been treated this well.”
“Sad day,” wrote Russell St. John. “Spent many nights and a couple fortunes at the track.”
What’s Next At Southland?
With the track closed, Delaware North, the Buffalo, New York-based company that owns Southland, is contemplating future uses for the site.
“We are planning to develop a strategic plan to identify potential new entertainment amenities to add at Southland,” Glen White, corporate communications director, told Gambling.com.
Southland recently underwent a $320 million expansion, including completion of a 20-story hotel and a 113,000-square-foot gaming floor with 2,400 slot machines 50 live table games.
The casino also has an on-site sportsbook and last year introduced a Betly Sportsbook app for sports betting within Arkansas’ borders.
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