Greyhound racing is on the decline nationwide and Southland Casino Racing is reacting to the trend. The West Memphis attraction, which has offered live greyhound races for 63 years, will phase out its greyhound racing operations by the end of 2022.
During the next three years, Southland will work with the Arkansas Greyhound Kennel Association to end its program, the company announced Thursday. The agreement had been contingent on approval from the Arkansas Racing Commission, which came Thursday.
"We want to avoid a disruptive and abrupt end to live racing to the benefit of all parties, including anyone that has a job at stake," Arkansas Greyhound Kennel Association said in a statement.
The agreement was unanimously approved by the association’s 16 kennel members. The agreement calls for a staggered reduction of the number of races. In 2019, there will be 6,656 races, and it will be reduced by 25% to 4,992 races in 2020. The following year only 60% (3,994 races) will be held, and it will drop to 2,662 races by 2022. Southland has about 1,200 greyhounds that race.
"The Kennel Association and Southland agreed that given these factors we needed an agreement that would provide certainty and clarity for the future by ending live racing via an orderly process on our own terms," Southland Casino Racing President David Wolf said.
Animal wellness groups, including Animal Wellness Action, supported the move.
"We applaud Southland and its parent company Delaware North for getting this deal over the finish line," said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. AWA and the Center for a Humane Economy, working with GREY2K USA Worldwide, have been urging the Buffalo-based gambling and food service company that owns Southland Casino Racing to develop a plan to end racing. "This is a short phase-out, and it’s good for dogs and for Southland and its reputation."
Greyhound racing only exists in six states and has been in decline for several years. One of those states, Florida, will ban the sport after 2021. Southland has been racing greyhounds in West Memphis since 1956, and it has been one of the most popular greyhound racing grounds in the country. Part of the reason the number of races will be staggered downward during the next three years is to allow for ample time to adopt out the greyhounds, Wolf added.
Southland has been experiencing major changes during the past couple of years. It’s in the midst of building a new 240,000-square-foot casino complex and a 20-story, 300-room hotel in the Crittenden County bedroom community across the Mississippi River from Memphis. The project is slated to cost at least $200 million.
The complex will feature new and expanded dining options, including a larger buffet and steakhouse restaurants, new food hall, coffee shop and player lounge. The signature component of the expansion project is the 20-story hotel tower, which will feature 216 standard rooms, 72 corner suites and 12 penthouse suites. Onsite parking will also be expanded via construction of a new covered garage with 1,250 spaces.