Greyhound Breeders Getting Boost

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, AR--Since Tunica became a major player in the region's gambling landscape, business at Southland Park has suffered.

That has trickled down to affect those who breed and train the greyhounds that race at the park, but things are starting to get better.

Robert Thorne's love for Arkansas greyhound racing started at a very young age.

"When I was 15 years old in high school, I started at Southland as a lead out, and when I got out of high school I went into work as an assistant trainer and one thing lead to another," said Thorne.

From there Thorne moved back to Arkansas and has bred greyhounds every since. His business is closely tied to how Southland Park performs. While business was good in the 80's, the last 15 years has been rough thanks to Tunica's casinos.

"The people and greyhounds went to places where they have gaming and that had the larger purses. You go to where the money is. Now that we have this, the purses are starting to get better," said Southland Park's President Barry Baldwin.

Baldwin believes things are looking up thanks to revenues generating from the parks new electronic gaming machines.

14% of the income from the machines will go to higher purses on the track to attract better greyhounds, while another one percent will go to state breeders.

"That one percent makes a difference of staying in business or going out of business," said Thorne.

The Thorne farm is one of just four in Northeast Arkansas. In fact, two have started just recently and with the improved gaming at Southland even more are expect to come in the upcoming years.

"The one percent breeders award is already getting people where they are looking at land, coming from out of state and buying property here in Arkansas," said Baldwin.

Thorne believes the number of greyhound breeders in Arkansas will go from around seven to more than 35 in the next decade and those puppies will perk up the local economy.

"They will be spending the money that we make off the dogs to race more dogs. For breeding, vet bills, supplies, so many things and taxes that these things are used for, it will be big for everyone around here," said Thorne.

Southland has a new promotion that will allow all track visitors the opportunity to win their very own greyhound that will race at track.