SJC: Greyhound ban can go to voters

Susan Parkou Weinstein

The state’s highest court has turned down a bid by Raynham dog track owner George Carney to remove a proposed ban on greyhound racing from the November ballot.

In its ruling Tuesday morning, the Supreme Judicial Court said voters had the right to eliminate animal racing involving betting, that racing was a statewide issue, and that abolishing racing did not result in an illegal taking of Carney’s property.

The decision was hailed by the sponsors of the Greyhound Protection Act.

“This ruling is a victory for every dog lover in Massachusetts,” Christine Dorchak, co-chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Dogs, said.

If successful, the initiative would end dog racing in the state by Jan. 1, 2010 by repealing the law that licensed it.

Carney filed his civil suit against Attorney General Martha Coakley in May after she certified the question.

He argued the petition initiative shouldn’t be on a statewide ballot because it was aimed exclusively at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere and Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park in Raynham.

He also claimed the proposed law would represent the taking of his racing license, adding it would put his track out of business and render his facilities “valueless” and “unsuitable for other purposes.”

Coakley countered the question was of statewide concern, citing the narrow defeat of a similar proposal in 2000.

She said a proposal does not have to be uniform throughout the state so long as it has “some application everywhere. The proposed law concerns gambling, a matter of longstanding statewide concern and regulation,” she said.

She also said a dog-racing license “is not private property for takings purposes,” she said.

The court agreed, saying pari-mutuel racing licenses were not exclusive and did not entitle their holders to compensation if legislation eliminated dog racing in the state.

“The plaintiffs’ property as a whole would have at least some residual value: they could sell their equipment to other racing establishments or dog-related businesses, and they could sell the real property and facilities or redevelop them for other uses,” according to the ruling.

Carney succeeded in having a second ballot quashed in 2006 because it included provisions to toughen penalties for dog fighting and better protect service dogs, violating the “relatedness” limitation on the initiative process. The latest form corrects the “relatedness” problem by focusing solely on parimutuel dog racing, the court said.

Dorchak said her committee plans to mount a “robust campaign” to get the ballot passed. “We are confident that once voters learn the facts about this cruel industry, they will vote yes for the dogs on Question 3,” she said.

Carney cannot appeal the decision to the Supreme Court because it is a state matter.

Raynham Call