Remembering the legacy of Southland Greyhound Park - The Evening Times (2024)

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End of an era looms as longtime gaming facility set to end dog racing at end of year

ralphhardin@gmail.com Most people think of age 65 as the traditional age for retirement. Well, it has been 65 years since Southland Greyhound Park first opened its doors, becoming one of the areas biggest tourist attractions (and one of the Mid-South’s top revenue generators) for nearly six decades.

Well, after 65 years, Southland (now known as Southland Casino Racing) is having a retirement of sorts. No, Southland isn’t closing. It’s still one of the areas biggest tourist attractions (and a greater revenue producer than ever), but the facility, which recently completed $300 million expansion that includes more than doubling the casinos gaming space and adding a 20-story hotel, is retiring greyhound racing for good at the end of the year. As part of an arrangement with the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Arkansas Kennel Association, the 65 yearold facility is phasing out its live racing performances, a staple of Southland since it opened, originally as a seasonal attraction, in 1956.

The kennel owners and Southland began a staggered reduction of live races (it will still offer a wide selection of simulcast dog and horse races) at the end of 2019. The number was phased down by 25 percent in 2020 and again last year. The plan is to halt live racing altogether at the end of 2022.

The sport of greyhound racing, which dates back to the 1800s as “coursing,” has been under fire for decades. The number of racetracks in the U.S. has plummeted over the past 30 years. At its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, there were dozens of tracks, mostly running on a sea-

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Photo courtesy of the City of West Memphis SOUTHLAND (cont.)

sonal circuit, across 20 states. Now there are only four still open, a number that will drop to three when Southland closes the starting box for the final time at the end of the year.

A group by the name of Grey2K claims responsibility for the majority of the closures, particularly in Massachusetts and Florid, where greyhound racing thrived until the group and other anti-gaming and animal- advocacy groupd lobbied to get legislation on the ballots there to outlaw the sport. Other dog tracks eventually fell as well, as the sport fell out of favor, largely due to the expansion of other gaming options around the country.

At Southland, dog racing was king of the Mid-South until 1992, when the first riverboat casino, Splash Casino, opened in Tunica, Mississippi. Revenues fell at Southland from nearmillion- dollar nights to near-million-dollar weeks, and by the early 2000s, the facility was on life support.

But in 2006, Southland finally, after more than a decade of concerted efforts, was able to get legislation passed to allow limited gaming to customers.

Over the next several years, the hybrid racetrack-gaming center was able to expand into a full-blown casino, and in 2011, after major flooding closed the Mississippi casinos temporarily, Southland entered a boom period, generating more than a billion dollars in revenue for the first time

With the casino gaming revenues far outpacing the money made from greyhound racing, and with mounting pressure from groups like Grey2K, the writing was on the wall, it seemed, for live dog racing at Southland.

When the last race is run at Southland, presumably in late December, that will leave only three active dog tracks in the U.S., all of whom are now racetrackcasino hybrids, and all of whom used dog racing to get casino-style gaming in their facilities. Q Casino in Dubuque, Iowa; Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Cross Lanes, Virginia; and Wheeling Island Hotel & Casino-Racetrack in Wheeling, West Virginia are the last bastions of “The Sport of Queens” left in the U.S., although there are still greyhound racing tracks in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Mexico.

Many of the greyhounds now racing at Southland my find their way to one of these tracks, but most will be made available for adoption through Southland’s adoption program, Mid-South Greyhound Adoption Option.

Southland is roeking to place employees who currently work in the racing deparmtent into other jobs at the casino once racing officially ends.

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Remembering the legacy of Southland Greyhound Park - The Evening Times (2024)
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