Idaho Gov. Phil Batt said Thursday he is ordering an investigation into cruelty and corruption at Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park and could recommend the track be shut down.
Batt was not ready to say which agency will lead the investigation, although he said he is open to a group outside the Idaho Racing Commission, which he agrees has a vested interest in protecting the track.
The Spokesman-Review reported Sunday that greyhounds no longer fit to race have been electrocuted and killed in other inhumane ways at the Post Falls track.
Ten track insiders, including current and former trainers and members of a greyhound adoption group, also charge Idaho Racing Commission employees at the track with ignoring state racing laws. Several whistleblowers have written the commission with allegations dating back to 1992.
The Idaho Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the commission, recently finished an investigation but ruled out any wrongdoing by track management and the commission, which employs track judges and veterinarians.
Critics say the investigation was superficial and only targeted a trainer, Gary Burman, who was accused of electrocuting his dogs.
Burman’s racing contract was canceled Sept. 1.
“I will look into these allegations with the proper authorities … and will demand that the regulations are followed,” Batt said.
“If it appears that there are consistent violations, I will recommend the track be closed,” he said.
Al May, the top executive at the Post Falls track, said he welcomes another investigation.
“We run our business in an open and fair manner,” May said. “I’m not going to tolerate or condone any abuse.”
The national Greyhound Protection League, based in Palo Alto, Calif., issued a statement Wednesday urging Batt to “close down the scandal-ridden, economically failing dog track once and for all.”
The track opened in the fall of 1988 after a group of lobbyists led by Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone pressured the Legislature to approve dog racing.
In exchange, Hagadone promised to build a $20 million racing complex on Lake Coeur d’Alene, an entertainment venue that would employ 600 people and lure $50 million in annual betting.
To appease horse racers who opposed the dog track, Hagadone offered 40 days of horse racing each year.
That never happened. The track has been an economic failure.
Hagadone withdrew his financial interest several years ago, leaving ownership with Paul Bryant Jr., son of the legendary Alabama football coach, and United Tote Co. The track was built on the west side of Post Falls near State Line and has an annual betting handle of $22 million. It employs 125 people.
Two telephone calls to Hagadone were not returned.
The idea for the dog track first originated with Barbara Strickfaden, then executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Now employed by the Idaho Bankers Association in Boise, Strickfaden said Thursday she would not comment “on all those negative things,” but said the track spurred development of Riverbend Commerce Park.
“I think a lot of good positive things have come out of the track,” she said.
The track’s poor national reputation confirms Batt’s eight-year-old concerns.
“I strongly opposed it,” Batt said. “I had heard stories of real problems with animal health and treatment in dog racing, and I didn’t think we needed it.
“There was a tremendous push at the time, mainly by the Hagadone Corp., to get the operation going.”
Hagadone flew lobbyists and Chamber of Commerce types in his private jet to see another track in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
But in conservative southern Idaho, where a strong Mormon influence opposed gambling, the dog-racing measure appeared doomed.
Hagadone then cut a deal with horse-racing interests, who later accused him of lying and reneging.
Batt, then a Republican state senator from Wilder, chaired the Senate State Affairs Committee in the spring of 1987. While personally against dog racing, Batt said he thought proponents deserved a floor vote.
So he broke a 4-4 committee tie sending the bill to the Senate floor, where it passed 24-17. The House OK’d it 49-22.
“I did it reluctantly, but there was tremendous pressure from legislators to get that measure on the floor,” Batt said. “With that kind of interest, I just thought it was unfair to proponents not to give them a chance to vote on it.”
More than seven years ago, Sen. Batt wrote an editorial for The Spokesman-Review.
He said track proponents pressured the Legislature to pass dog racing without ample review.
“The whole dog-racing issue is a prime example of a matter which deserved careful deliberation, but which was rushed through due to the insistence of those who had economic interests,” Batt wrote.
“I fear that the beautiful Kootenai County area will regret the intrusion of this questionable activity into its midst.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Idaho headline: “Batt calls for dog track investigation”