Tucson Greyhound Park, once a Saturday night favorite for a good meal and easy entertainment, ran its final race Saturday night.
The park started its own race for survival about 22 years ago when gaming casinos opened in Arizona. Its remaining dogs ran their last races and will leave within days for their next venture, be it a greyhound rescue group or another, out-of-state racing venue.
It's unknown how the track, at 2601 S. Third Ave., will re-create itself in the months and years ahead. The facility and the surrounding area includes about 60 acres of land that can be redeveloped, but for now it will stay open and continue to offer simulcast racing.
The track’s owners, Joseph Zappala and Philip Robert Consolo Jr. of Florida, are still evaluating what to do with the property, said Michael Racy, a spokesman and lobbyist for the track for over 20 years.
Tucson Greyhound Park opened in 1944 and has operated continuously since, with attendance steadily declining as more and more gambling patrons started choosing the quick gratification of casino slot machines over wagering on dogs, Racy said.
“In the 1980s, it was very, very popular with big crowds. As a student at the UA, I’d go,” he said. “There was a great restaurant and it was a really fun way to spend a Saturday night.”
Dog and horse racing can only really compete now when there are also some slot machines on site, he said. Some states have gone that route, he said, but not Arizona.
“It’s no mystery,” he said. “As more casinos have opened, it’s gotten tougher and tougher.”
Phoenix closed its track more than seven years ago.
The final day for Tucson’s track became imminent in May, when Gov. Doug Ducey signed bills ending live dog racing in Arizona.
And with that came a faster exodus of dogs, which had started a month earlier with the anticipated legislation pending.
Local rescue groups have remained busy since and will continue to operate even after all of the Tucson Greyhound Park dogs have been rescued or moved elsewhere.
Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption has taken in 43 dogs since April and is scheduled to take seven more today, said Renee Bennett, operations director with the nonprofit.
“Because we have taken in many more hounds than normal, it will take us a while to find suitable forever homes,” Bennett said. “Once we have adopted out most of those hounds, we plan to take hounds from the track in Tijuana.”
Another local group, Arizona Greyhound Rescue, has taken in about 20 dogs since April, said Mary Flores, the organization’s development director.
“Once the hounds we have received from Tucson Greyhound Park are placed, Arizona Greyhound Rescue will begin to receive greyhounds from any of the five states where dog racing remains legal and operational,” she said.