With Arizona ending live greyhound racing, it's the end of an era long coming. Where the state once had five tracks, the only one left was in poor Tucson, which couldn't even keep a slice of Spring Training. The track in Phoenix closed to live racing in 2009. Changing tastes, animal activists and, especially, the proliferation of tribal casinos did in the pastime.
But once upon a time, it was a big deal. Before Phoenix Greyhound Park became a swap meet and was painted, like so much of the town, brown, it was one of the city's premier entertainment attractions. The golden age was from the 1950s through the 1970s. Opening in 1954, Phoenix Greyhound Park at 40th Street and Washington was a neon-lit palace where middle-class couples and compulsive gamblers mixed with the city's elite — and members of its extensive population of mobsters. Betting was legal. And a pre-video-device audience thrilled to dogs racing chasing a mechanical "lure" around the track. The park promised glamor, excitement, and was highly advertised ("there goes the rabbit, rabbit, rabbit!").
The extent of organized crime's penetration of dog racing in Phoenix remains an important, and controversial, element of the mystery of the 1976 assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. After the blast and before he passed out, first responders heard Bolles say (a version of) "they finally got me...Adamson, Emprise, Mafia...find John Adamson..." Emprise was a sports conglomerate headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. and controlled by the Jacobs family. It held a controlling interest in Arizona dog tracks.
Emprise was found to be associated with organized crime figures and convicted in Los Angeles of racketeering in 1972. The allegations involved taking a hidden interest in a Las Vegas casino to skim the profits. In Phoenix, Emprise had been a target of Bolles' investigative reporting and focus of a crackdown by the state Racing Commission in the early 1970s. Even so, the state allowed the company to keep its concessions, including at Phoenix Greyhound Park. Emprise's Phoenix partner was the Funk family And it had friendly ties to Kemper Marley, the powerful land-and-booze baron always lurking at the edge of the Bolles murder.