(Note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Wayne Strong by Gary Guccione, former executive director of the National Greyhound Association. Strong was presented the NGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award Tuesday night)
Part II: The
GG: Let’s talk about 1975—the year of “The Strike.”
WS: I was sitting here in Kansas while they were formulating the strike. I didn’t even know they were formulating it until one day I got a call from Isadore Hecht (owner of Flagler). He wanted to know if I was involved in the strike talk. I said no, I don’t even know what strike you’re talking about.
So then I called down there to somebody and they said, come on down. We’re having a big meeting. So I took Greg and David and we got on a plane and went down and they had enough rabble-rowsers there to wind me up, too. I knew we weren’t getting enough (purses). We were only getting 1.9 percent and were offered 3 percent, but we wanted to get 4 percent which was a big jump. We should have just taken a little bit. But they decided to all stick together and voted to strike. I got pretty boisterous, and they voted me to be the head of the strike committee. ‘Why me?’ I asked.
I went in there with negotiations at Flagler, and with their attorneys. People lined up. Smart guys lined up and I stuck to the deal that we had to have 4 percent that the guys had agreed to. And they (Flagler) wouldn’t budge. They’d say silly things about how they had more money invested than us, that we just had the dogs. And I went back to our people and said we couldn’t make a deal. So they said, ‘We’re gonna strike.’ So the boys went home and went on strike.
It should have been worked out. The strike was harmful to the industry. What happened afterward, after we’d gotten an increase, was that the tracks made up for that extra expense by raising the take-out and that hurt racing. The handles were much higher when they didn’t take out so much. They’d only take out about 16 percent before that, and the industry was doing really good. If we’d have just gotten a point (increase), that would have been great. We just wanted too much, and they (the tracks) started taking more out of the handle. That was the killer of the racing industry. With a higher take-out, the handles dropped. We used to have a lot of million dollar nights before that happened.
GG: How much did they increase the take-out?
WS: They started taking out 18-20 percent, or higher. It should have been 16 percent. That’s what killed it. We killed it with the strike, and wanting way more money. They (tracks) didn’t know any better, they thought they’d just increase the take-out and it wouldn’t matter. But when they took more out of the handle, the handle went to pieces. It took a little time, but guys that used to come out and bring $100 to bet, and maybe make a little bit of money, they couldn’t make it any more. That’s a big thing, that take-out number.
GG: You were among those sent to jail for striking at Flagler.
WS: Oh yeah, we went to jail for two days. We were called the Flagler 18. We went right into the maximum security area with the killers and hard-core criminals. I got so nervous right off, I remember getting physically sick. I couldn’t even move. It was tough.
Everyone was hanging tough. (Barney) O’Donnell was always leery about the strike, but when we got in there he was as strong as anybody.
I was a poor guy to have on the strike committee, because I couldn’t talk them into anything. They just talked me down. The industry lost on the strike. Short-term, we got a little more money. But we should have kept them from increasing the take-out. It was too much. It killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.
GG: Was that what propelled you toward pursuing track ownership in Kansas City?
WS: Yeah. I wasn’t going to take that much out of the handle. I put that on my applications. I explained to the states and commissioners that we were taking out 3-4 percent less than anyone else and that we’d be long-term successful while the other applicants wouldn’t.
GG: I was on the Kansas governor’s advisory committee at that time with Keith Dillon and Norman Hansen and an equal number of horse representatives. You had the NGA’s endorsement, but it seemed that — and I heard this a lot back then — that the powers-that-be were determined to have a dual-purpose (horse and greyhound) track in Kansas City. As if it was a done deal.
WS: That was started by (Dick) Boushka and (Dee) Hubbard from the Woodlands. I knew that wasn’t going to work in the long run. It wasn’t any good.
GG: But they ended up getting the license. What if you’d have gotten that license?
WS: We’d still be open. I got Wichita as a consolation prize in partnership with the Maisel-Ripps group because they (the Kansas Racing Commission) knew I had the best proposal.
GG: How did that Wichita deal go?
WS: Bad. Their game plan was to get me out from the beginning. I didn’t want to charge fans for parking. I didn’t want to charge for admission and I wanted to let people come in and play their money. I wanted less take-out. We got some free parking but it was way out in the parking lot. We didn’t get free admission except for downstairs. We started out big but they were doing things wrong. They were taking too much, charging too much. They were running people off.
I wanted to get a track where I’d have some control so I wanted to be bought out and they bought me out for $3.7 million which was pretty good. I figure it cost me about a million to get in the deal, advertising and all the rest.
GG: This began a long list of efforts at trying to get a track.
WS: I had a local guy in Wisconsin apply for a track near Madison. Had a good location. Would have had a good track. We’d still be running today if we’d gotten that. I had control of that one, and we weren’t going to do the things that would run off the fans. One of the operators close to the governor ended up getting the license at our expense. We had the best location and the best chance of success. The guys with me were good guys and I was going to be running the thing. That was a bad blow there.
I went out to Vegas after I sold the track (Wichita) and Len Leany was working on a track, but he didn’t have the know-how. I put up all the money out of that $3.7 million trying to get a track, paying the lobbyists, paying for the land and general expenses. Leany would present me with a bill each month for a couple hundred thousand dollars and I put about $1.5 million in trying to get that track. Then when I couldn’t get it voted in, Leany tried getting me out of there, just used me, and tried to cut me out of the land. We had about 100 acres of land tied up. I’d never sued anyone before, but I wound up suing him. I went through attorney after attorney. I won the suit after a week of a jury trial. They awarded me more than was actually given me, but I settled because Leany promised to drag this out through appeals indefinitely. By the time I paid everything off, there was nothing.
GG: How about your efforts to get a track with the Indians?
WS: I went to New Mexico to meet with the Santa Ana Indians. They voted to do the deal, and we drew up a contract. We took two or three of them to Washington, D.C. for hearings. I remember one legislator stood up at the hearings and said how illegal this plan would be. Later we heard through the grapevine that if we built a track there, they would put me in jail. So the federal government was against it. The tribe eventually got a casino there, but not a track.
GG: Where was the track going to be?
WS: In Bernalillo, just north of Albuquerque on the Santa Ana’s land. I spent $350,000 on taking members of the tribe back to Washington, D.C. and to St. Pete, and to pay a bunch of attorneys and got nothing. We went to St. Pete and I told the tribal representatives, ‘We’re going to build a track just like this one’ and they were gung-ho as hell.
GG: You said that the increase in take-out was the biggest thing that hurt the game.
WS: Yes. Taking it from 16 percent to 20-21 percent killed it. Overnight. How they could miss it was beyond me.
GG: What about the effects from simulcasting?
WS: Simulcasting didn’t hurt us. It just educated new people about greyhound racing.
GG: And the impact of casinos?
WS: Casino take-out was more, but they said it was less. This take-out is a funny business. Only 12 races, and they took out 20 percent with each new race, every 15 minutes. That’s too high to compete with gaming. But the gaming take-out was actually more, because they do it every second or two instead of every 15 minutes, with every spin of a slot machine or with every bet.
GG: What’s the future of our sport?
WS: The future has to be slot machines at the tracks. You have to have it now. You can’t go back to lower take-out. It’s built in now. You got to have slot machines, like they have at Southland and the West Virginia tracks.
GG: You’ve raced for a lot of different racetrack operators in your more than half century in the game and based just on this interview, you’ve had a lot of differences with many of them. Does any one of them stand out as the best, in your mind?
WS: Kenny Guenthner. He ran a small track, but did it right. He was the most gracious of all of them.
GG: Which racing secretary did you enjoy running for the most?
WS: Tom Bowersox. He was always very fair.
GG: Looking back on your career in racing, what would you have done differently?
WS: I sure would have done that Vegas deal differently. Somehow or another, to get that thing to go through. Kansas City, too.
I also might have not bragged on my dogs so much. Maybe the good breeders would have bred to them more.
GG: You had a monument placed where you buried Friend Westy, Miss Gorgeous, Rooster and Robber, down by your kennel. Why did you do that?
WS: Because they were great dogs. They were great and I knew they were great. They were as good as they make them, and I owed a lot to them. The only way they’d beat them was if they jammed them. There’s a smaller monument next to them where Radar Look, Fruit Float, Share Profit*, John Denton and Memory Bank are buried.
GG: We’ve talked about a lot of high points as well as low points in the business. What would you say was your most satisfying moment in the game?
WS: It was probably at Wonderland, the night of Rooster’s match race with Downing, even though he didn’t win it. There was about 10,000 people there that night. Wall to wall people. To see that many more people come out and to appreciate his performance, that was special. Even though he didn’t win.
Reprinted with permission from The Greyhound Review.