By KOURTNEY LIEPELT Associated Press
The Clinton Herald
---- — DES MOINES — After a last-minute deal by lawmakers, greyhound racing in Iowa is set for a dramatic change — or not.
It all depends on whether Gov. Terry Branstad signs a bill overwhelmingly approved by legislators in the final days of the legislative session.
The uncertainty has been difficult for breeders such as Melissa Schmidt, who operates a farm in Bellevue. She wonders what will happen to her dogs and her business.
“It’s really a huge leap of faith to continue doing what I’m doing,” she said. “I’ve lost a lot of nights of sleep, and I’m sure everyone else has too.”
The measure calls for ending racing in Council Bluffs by 2016 and freeing a Dubuque casino from subsidizing its track beginning in 2015. Under the bill, Dubuque’s casino would pay $7 million and the Council Bluffs casino would pay $65 million toward a fund to opt out of racing.
Of that $72 million, the Iowa Greyhound Association would receive $36 million to lease the Dubuque track for five years and keep dog racing alive. The rest would go toward a retirement fund for owners, breeders and no-kill animal programs.
Earlier this week, Branstad was noncommittal about signing the legislation.
“I will carefully review and consider it,” Branstad said Monday at his weekly news conference. “I’ve not made any decision on this.”
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission would develop rules for how the retirement fund would be distributed. Brian Ohorilko, the commission’s administrator, said there has not yet been discussion on how to address the distribution of payments.
Branstad noted the commission’s crucial role in determining how the “huge” payout for greyhound groups is dispersed. But that payout is contingent upon his signature.
Until then, breeders such as Schmidt will wait. She said she can’t produce a business plan or determine what she’ll do with the 140 dogs currently on her farm until she knows whether greyhound racing will be reduced or how the payments could affect her kennel’s makeup.
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said the bill allows the state to be proactive rather than waiting for greyhound racing to fail. If Branstad doesn’t sign the legislation, though, Danielson said “delicate negotiations that took years” will quickly unravel.
“If he vetoes it, he’s going to be digging a deeper hole,” Danielson said.
Jesus Aviles, Mystique CEO, said the deal would place his not-for-profit casino in a better financial position to give back to the community.
Jorene King, president of Heartland Greyhound Adoption, said the bill’s passage would likely result in an influx of greyhounds to her program and others. She said her concern is that she doesn’t know how many dogs to expect, but that the 18-month span until Council Bluffs racing would end allows the time to prepare financially and logistically.
Anti-racing advocates worry about the dogs’ well-being. Carey Theil, executive director for GREY2K USA, said though he’s wary that the bill maintains dog racing in Iowa, greyhounds would “pay the price” should Branstad veto it.
“This is not a perfect law, but it’s a step in the right direction for the dogs,” Theil said.