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June 30, 2009

Kentucky Cockfighting Pit Exposed

Weak penalites allow cockfighters to flout the law

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Because of its weak state law, Kentucky is a magnet for cockfighters. The HSUS

by Ariana Huemer

You can't drive across the country without passing through the "cockfighting corridor," a strip of states stretching from Ohio to Alabama. In these states, the penalties for cockfighting are so slight that cockfighting enthusiasts flock there.

At the heart of the corridor is the Bayou Springs Club in Jeffersonville, Kentucky, the target of last month's HSUS investigation into Kentucky's illegal cockfighting industry.

HSUS investigators, accompanied by undercover reporters, inflitrated what its organizers billed as the world championship of cockfighting, and documented the event from start to finish.

Flouting The Law

The scene at the Bayou Springs Club was typical of cockfighting events: a blood-splattered pit, raucous spectators throwing down bets, and birds staggering around with their intestines hanging out and lungs exposed before collapsing.

There were even juveniles on hand to witness the spectacle.

Less typical was the Bayou Springs Club's flagrance in flouting the law. Far from being a discreet operation in a secluded location, the Bayou Springs Club featured stadium seating, a full-service restaurant and even souvenirs for sale—including T-shirts advertising the dates and location of the illegal event, personalized with the patron's name upon request.

Cockfighting Apologists

How can cockfighting criminals be so brazen? In this case, look no farther than Jeffersonville's mayor. Asserting his support for this blood sport, Mayor Anthony Henderson declared that there are "a lot worse problems out there than somebody cockfighting," and said, "I don't know why in the world they can't legalize cockfighting."

With a cockfighting apologist heading the town, it's easy to see why Bayou Springs' owner Richard Abshire felt comfortable in Jeffersonville.

After being prosecuted for running another pit in Louisiana (where the anti-cockfighting laws are considerably stronger) Abshire focused his efforts on his Kentucky pit. He expanded the Bayou Springs Club to its current extravagance and added more cockfighting events to the club's schedule.

A Cockfighting Magnet

"The Bayou Springs pit is a prime example of how these criminal cockfighting operations move from states with tough laws to states with anemic laws," observed HSUS investigator John Goodwin. "With one of the weakest cockfighting laws in the nation, Kentucky has become a virtual magnet for cockfighters from other states."

A survey of the parking lot at the Bayou Springs Club cockfighting derby backed Goodwin's statement. Attendees' cars bore license plates from Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana—all states with much stronger cockfighting laws.

Indictments Handed Down

On Tuesday, June 30, a Montgomery County Grand Jury charged Abshire with a three-count indictment: promoting gambling (a class A misdemeanor) permitting gambling (a class B misdemeanor) and conspiracy to promote gambling—a class D felony. In all, Abhsire faces up to a little over 6 years behind bars if convicted.

Prosecutors didn't stop there. They also obtained indictments for the Louisiana corporation that owns Bayou Springs, Bubab LLC, with promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling.

The legal action isn't the first against the Bayou Springs. In 2005, operating under the name of Spring Brook Farm, the pit's then-owners were indicted and convicted of similar gambling crimes. In a plea bargain with prosecutors, they wound up $400,000 in the hole.

What You Can Do

If you live in a state where cockfighting is considered merely a misdemeanor (Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, or West Virginia) ask your legislators to toughen up the penalities for this crime.

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States.

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