After a spike in incidents of greyhounds testing positive for cocaine at a Florida racetrack, supporters and opponents of racing both point to a change in regulations.
The 23 incidents involved dogs competing at the Bestbet track in Orange Park.
First Coast News first reported local trainer Charles McClellan's license was being suspended on an emergency basis by the state after 17 positive cocaine tests in dogs he trained.
State regulations require racing animals be tested regularly for hundreds of prohibited substances, including bath salts, caffeine, heroin, and cocaine. Banned substances are all found in the Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances through the Association of Racing Commissioners International,
Routine urine samples are required to be collected from select greyhounds on race day and then sent to a lab.
Steve Sarras, the owner of the kennel where McClellan worked, questioned the testing system.
"None of the samples were witnessed or signed for by any employees of Steve M. Sarras Kennel," he said in a statement. "The state conducts of all the drug testing and receives the results. I have yet to be officially notified by the state in regards to these positive samples."
Each lab test form has a space for the dog owner to sign as a witness to the test. On each lab result in McClellan's file, the owner signature lines are all blank.
Florida law does not require a racing employee be present for the testing unless the animal is a racehorse. The state is only required to notify the trainer of a dog in their care testing positive, leaving the kennel and race track potentially unaware of a problem.
Bestbet racetrack of Orange Park president Jamie Shelton said last week he received a two-hour notice from the state that McClellan's license was being suspended. State regulators told First Coast News any notification to the racetrack may be done as a courtesy, but it is not required.
The state also has up to three months to tell a trainer a dog they are caring for has tested positive for a drug under a 2015 law.
In 2012, a dog McClellan trained tested positive for Class I drug oxymorphone, but according to DPBR case documents, he did not receive notification until 2014 when the state filed an administrative complaint. In the 2014 case, the state first revoked McClellan's license then changed the punishment to a 60-day suspension after discovering the wrong positive test result had been attached to McLellan's case.
Florida Representative Jared Moskowitz said the process doesn't move fast enough.
“There are systemic bureaucratic problems, these are issues that have existed for a while...and they will continue to exist unless we strengthen the laws," Moskowitz said. "Because right now the laws give [the Department of Business and Professional Regulation] too much discretion to sit on the case, fine a person here, suspend a license there.”
Only 19 greyhound tracks still exist nationwide; 12 of them are in Florida.
The division for Pari-mutuel Wagering, under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, makes the rules and investigates violators of all things gaming in Florida.
Moskowitz, who has championed legislation geared toward restricting dog racing, believes tougher laws could have stopped a case like McClellan's before the rash of 17 violations prompted an emergency suspension.
“Seventeen, I think, is the most we’ve seen. The department has let [trainers] get away with this and get away with this. We’ve given them enough rope and look what they’re doing with it, that's why we have to take the subjectivity out of the department's hands, out of bureaucracy and put it in the statute."
McClellan's license suspension for code violations remains open pending an administrative hearing in August. The trainer has not been charged criminally.
First Coast News has requested an interview with the state's gambling division director, but we have not yet received a response.