Iowa legalized greyhound racing in the 1980s, at what turned out to be the end of that industry’s last period of growth. Legislators hoped they were opening up a vital new source of revenue, as the state was suffering through the collapse of the Midwest farming economy. At the end of the ’80s, there were more than 60 greyhound racetracks in 19 states around the country. In Iowa, greyhound racing was centered in Dubuque and Council Bluffs, locations likely to bring in out-of-state dollars.
By the mid-’90s, greyhound racing was in decline across America. Gambling enthusiasts had new options as more states approved casino gambling, and as animal welfare advocates began to focus public attention on the treatment, and mistreatment, of the dogs who are raced.
Attendance and revenue at tracks declined, both nationwide and in Iowa. A third dog track in Waterloo closed in 1994 after seven years of racing. States that had greyhound racing began banning it, citing concerns about animal welfare. By 2018, there were only 17 tracks left in the country, 11 of which were in Florida, the state that first legalized greyhound racing in 1931. But that year, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning dog racing after 2021. After the closure of the Florida tracks, there were only four left in the U.S. – one in West Memphis, Arkansas, two in West Virginia and the Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque.
The impact of the end of greyhound racing in Iowa after decades is being felt beyond those who worked or gambled at the final track.
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