Dog races prove disastrous gamble for WisconsinDave Dueholm grew up in Luck but — as one of the most vocal opponents of the $40 million St. Croix Meadows Greyhound track back in the late 1980s — never believed western Wisconsin should have placed a bet on the dogs the way so many other parts of this state already had.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Dave Dueholm grew up in Luck but — as one of the most vocal opponents of the $40 million St. Croix Meadows Greyhound track back in the late 1980s — never believed western Wisconsin should have placed a bet on the dogs the way so many other parts of this state already had.
He also doesn’t much believe in saying, “I told you so.” Although — given the colossal bust of Wisconsin’s five dog tracks in the decades since then — certainly could.
The tracks were to be the magic elixir that would bring jobs and riches to town alongside wonderfully swift and graceful hounds. Developers, and maybe an occasional gambler, would get wheelbarrows full of cash, and the state would get its share too. Licensed by the state and protected from too much competition, they couldn’t fail. Except that they did.
The first tracks opened in 1990. The last, St. Croix Meadows, opened on June 20, 1991. In retrospect, it was doomed by a federal court decision before a dog by the name of RD’s Flyinbullet even won the first race.
Just two days earlier, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb released an opinion stating that the same 1987 constitutional amendment on gambling that allowed the creation of both the state-run lottery and pari-mutuel betting basically gave the Indian tribes the right to casino games. The ruling caused an eventual explosion of Indian gaming that undermined the dog tracks. In Hudson, where St. Croix Meadows had been built, tribal casinos and horse racing in nearby Minnesota didn’t help either.
Gamblers quickly fled the tracks for the casinos. Within a few years, the Fox Valley Greyhound Park in Kaukauna went belly-up. The Wisconsin Dells track, the very first to open in April 1990, stopped running races in 1996. St. Croix, hemorrhaging as much as $7 million a year, tried to save itself with simulcasting and an unsuccessful effort to convince the state to let Indian tribes open up an off-reservation casino there. But in August 2001, it was shuttered as well. As if to prove the absurdity of the venture, two naked men jumped onto the track and ran with the dogs during the last race.
Today, all five are closed. Dueholm, who briefly served as Hudson’s mayor before the track was built, has since moved to Madison. A property assessor, he still visits the area and describes the old park as overgrown and “awful” after ten years of dormancy.
That seems about to change. Just the other day Hudson voters approved buying the 126-acre greyhound park for a new school. Maybe one day, I think, the history teachers will look out the window of that new school and use the place as a lesson. Ironically — and inadvertently — the same constitutional amendment that gave the tracks life also killed them. Unless you’re an Indian tribe with a monopoly on the market, gambling is not something to build a future upon.
Or maybe it’s a simpler lesson than that.
Dueholm isn’t sanctimonious about wagering, does a little of it himself.
“I’m a pretty good blackjack player,” he said. “But I don’t like the fact the state became a promoter” of gambling.
One thing is certain. Rarely, if ever, has there been a more complete and unmitigated failure in the state of Wisconsin than greyhound racing. The state can’t protect a business from competition forever — or, sometimes, much at all. Luck only lasts so long.
I told Dueholm that I thought it was kind of interesting he really is from a place called Luck.
“People refer to me,” he quipped, “as @#$* out of Luck.”
I laughed. But, when it comes to greyhound racing in this state, we all are.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.