Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
An effort to end dog racing at Iowa's two remaining greyhound tracks is growing.
Now, city and business leaders in both cities with tracks -- Dubuque and Council Bluffs -- are on board with lobbying legislators to change the existing law. Currently, Iowa code dictates that in order for Dubuque's Mystique casino to have a gaming license, it must continue to offer greyhound racing.
Dubuque's dog track opened in the mid-80s, contributing to the turnaround of the city's then-dismal economy. Now, casino officials are saying, Greyhound racing hasn't been profitable since the early 90s.
As they lobby to eliminate dog tracks in Iowa, however, people in the greyhound industry worry about the future of their livelihood.
If dogs are, indeed, a person's best friend, as the saying goes, Melissa Schmidt has 100 of them.
She breeds and raises Greyhounds in Jackson County for racing, including at Iowa's two remaining dog tracks.
She and her husband have six kids, which is one reason why she's against the elimination of Greyhound racing.
"After eight years of doing this, it's enough to support my family," Schmidt said Tuesday morning on her farm. "Not a lavish lifestyle, by any means, but enough to pay for what they need."
Just in 2013, Schmidt said, she spent some $100,000 on Greyhound-related expenses.
"Immunizations, bedding, vets, supplements," she listed.
Almost all of that money she spent in the state of Iowa, contributing to the local economy.
At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Dubuque city leaders presented their case to the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce Government Committee for wanting to eliminate Greyhound racing from the state of Iowa.
Jesús Avilés is president and CEO of Mystique Casino and the Dubuque Racing Association. He said he is working with the Iowa Greyhound Association to plan a "soft landing" for those in the industry.
"There's got to be some kind of support to those folks, vis-à-vis a soft landing, a pool of money they can draw upon to make sure they have the re-tooling and the re-training to move forward," Avilés said.
For Schmidt, however, Greyhound breeding, raising and racing is about more than just money.
"I'm angry. Very angry. And sad. I mean, if I had to give this up, I don't know what I'd do," she said. "I've been a police officer, I've been a teacher and this is my favorite job of all."
Schmidt's is just one of some 60 Greyhound farms in the state of Iowa.
"I'm not going to give it up without a fight. I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can," she said. "I just can't imagine if I can't do this anymore."
People working at the actual tracks would also be impacted by an elimination of the Greyhound racing. Avilés said that includes 12 union jobs in Dubuque, although contract negotiations have resulted in alternative options for those workers if dog tracks are, indeed, eliminated. Avilés also said there are many people who work at the dog track as a summer job.
The non-profit Dubuque Racing Association operates Dubuque's city-owned Mystique Casino and Dog Track, giving half its profits every year to local non-profit organizations and the other half to the city.
Avilés said the DRA is paying $4.5 million per year to prop up the dog track, which is money it would otherwise be able to distribute to the city and non-profits.
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