Photo by STEVEN BEARDSLEY // Buy this photo
Everything has its season, according to the Bible and The Byrds. Local greyhound racing is no exception.
On a warm Memorial Day afternoon, the Naples-Fort Myers track in Bonita Springs said goodbye to its live racing season, hosting a final matinee for a modest crowd. The dogs would later be trucked to Miami, where they’ll race through the summer before returning in November. Naples-Fort Myers will remain open for the duration.
The day felt like most others at the track. Handlers moved dogs through each part of 16 races, from the preliminary weigh-in and inspection, pictured above, to the starting boxes and back to the kennels.
Spectators flipped through $2 programs and placed bets. They avoided the sun, sipped on cheap drafts and abandoned worthless tickets to the ground.
Starr Scuderi, 39, brought her 5-year-old daughter, Mae, for the family’s first visit since moving to the area in August.
“I think we’ve lost every single thing we bet on,” Scuderi chuckled.
The afternoon wore on, the heat grew and the crowd thinned. The Scuderis and other families departed, leaving a small group of older and more serious bettors behind.
Norman Santini, 57, sat in the vacant second tier, his attention split between the track and a simulcast race from Palm Beach. A one-time regular, Santini said he now prefers Internet poker or blackjack at the Indian casino.
Phil McGuire, 79, and his wife, Nell, 72, shared a table a distance away. The Cape Coral couple have seen the track change over the past 30 years.
“A long time ago you used to see the same people here all the time,” Phil McGuire said. “Now you don’t see the same guys anytime.”
When the track switched from year-round racing to a seasonal schedule in 2010, one kennel owner told me it was a welcome throwback to greyhound racing’s glory days, when dogs raced on a circuit. Fewer races would mean better-quality races, he said.
Last Monday, it felt like another nail in the coffin of a slowly dying industry.
Racing is a shadow of what it once was. Revenues have fallen 54 percent in the past decade as bettors and gamblers turn to other alternatives, including the Internet and posh Native American casinos. Public support for dog racing is questionable, meanwhile. A recent Mason-Dixon poll found more Florida respondents viewed racing unfavorably (49 percent) than those who viewed it favorably (38 percent).
Tracks see the writing on the wall. This past legislative session, they lobbied for a bill to decouple greyhound racing from the more lucrative card rooms and slot machines. Current law mandates tracks host a minimum of races to maintain other gambling.
The bill failed in the last moments of the session, as track owners pushed for more perks.
And so race days like Memorial Day will stay a novelty, a vestige of Old Florida that vanishes from the spectator’s memory as soon as their losing ticket hits the floor.
Some seasons fade longer than others.
- - -
Connect with Steven Beardsley at www.naplesnews.com/staff/steven-beardsley/