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Nancy Smith

Black Friday: Florida Horse Racing Going, Going ...

February 26, 2016 - 11:45pm
Early decoupling: Demolition of Calder's horse stalls in March 2015
Early decoupling: Demolition of Calder's horse stalls in March 2015

Hope dwindled for Florida horsemen Friday after a revenue estimating conference on decoupling failed to address the economic impact of allowing many of the state's pari-mutuel facilities to close, while at the same time retaining their casino licenses.

State economist Amy Baker and a team from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Florida House, Senate, Department of Professional Regulation and the Governor's Office performed a fiscal review of the 2016 gaming bills before the House and Senate. It was an entirely one-dimensional exercise.

The Seminole Compact negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott is valued at $3.1 billion in payments to the state from the Seminole Tribe over seven years. It would mean a major expansion of gambling in Florida. If approved, it would bring craps and roulette to Seminole casinos in the state, and allow slot machines at Palm Beach Kennel Club and a new location in Miami-Dade County -- places slots were not previously allowed under other agreements.

Decoupling itself was not introduced, or wanted, by the Seminoles. In fact, the Seminole Tribe inadvertently offer horsemen the only real hope they have. Some lawmakers believe the Senate bill, in which the decoupling provisions are included, violates the intent of the Seminole compact because it also would allow six new locations to request approval to install slots. Two of them, in Gadsden County and Hamilton County, are where renegade Quarter Horse tracks, complete with  illegal barrel racing, were operating. 

I Beg to DifferThe revenue team in session Friday was not charged with assessing the fiscal impact of the horse racing industry as a whole, or how decoupling will leave large pockets of rural, equestrian farmland 10 or even five years down the road.

Apparently not the Governor's Office nor the Senate nor the House leadership ever entertained the possibility that the horse racing industry could be more valuable to Florida than slots casinos and cardrooms. If they did, they never asked Baker's team to cost it out.

Neither was anything discussed Friday about pari-mutuel facilities, including race tracks, that accept local bets through their ADW -- via iPhone, outside the supervision of Florida's regulatory structure. It's an explicitly illegal practice in Florida (See Fl Statute 550.155) and Florida's longtime failure to collect the ADW tax costs the state millions of dollars in revenue and deflects money from the racing prize pool.

Word at the Capitol is, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, will file an amendment to the House bill that will legalize ADWs. What will happen if someone is smart enough to realize the revenue from ADWs could more than make up for the Seminole Compact revenue? The Gaetz amendment would put the control of the proposed "purse pools" for Thoroughbred racing -- the Legislature's token gesture to the horse industry -- totally under Tampa Bay Downs. 

Decoupling has been quietly under way for some time. At Calder Race Course, for example, owned by Churchill Downs, track owners began demolishing their horse stalls in early 2015 (see the photo on this page taken last March). If you go to Calder, go for the casino. If you want to watch a race there, it won't be easy with Calder's light schedule -- plus owners have torn down the grandstand. You will probably be directed to Gulfstream Park. And this has happened before the first vote on decoupling 

United Florida Horsemen, leaders in what has become a lonely fight against decoupling, issued this statement after Friday's revenue estimating conference:

"As Florida economists discussed decoupling this morning, Florida horsemen remind our policymakers that real business, jobs and lives are at stake," the statement read. "No slot machine can contribute the broad economic value of a horse, from breeding and green space, to the labor intensity of horse care, to the money returned to Florida's economy through horse racing.

"In listening to today's projections of slot machine revenue riches, it's easy to forget that money still comes out of real people's pockets. But given that gambling is here to stay, it makes no sense to watch our citizens' money fly out the door to pad casinos' bottom lines instead of back into our economy through the many benefits of live horse racing."

Matt Hegarty, correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, reports that if the Florida legislation is passed in its current form, "the state might become the first in a line of dominoes to fall, a reversal of the dynamic that led to casinos being allowed at racetracks in the first place, beginning more than 20 years ago in Iowa. Florida will become the first state to allow parimutuel facilities, including three horse tracks, to forfeit their parimutuel licenses while retaining licenses for casino-type games." 

Continued Hegarty, "Hialeah Park, the historic South Florida track that once held one of the country’s most prestigious Thoroughbred meets and now holds a brief Quarter Horse meet, and Pompano Park, a harness track, are both expected to drop their live-racing operations if the bill becomes law; Calder Race Course, owned by Churchill Downs, is expected to completely disassociate itself from its racing operation. Every greyhound track in the state is expected to close."

As Hegarty explains it, in more than a dozen states over the past two decades, racetracks and horsemen have convinced legislatures either to allow casino-type games at their facilities or cut the racing industry in on revenue from new casinos, usually by citing the legalization of casinos at tracks in competing states. 

Now, he says, U.S. purse accounts and funds for breeders’ awards currently reap $400 million annually in casino subsidies, approximately 35 percent of the total purse outlay of $1.2 billion in the United States. Those figures are compiled by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group.

To our knowledge, only one other state has introduced legislation this year that would allow all tracks in the state to decouple: West Virginia.

But West Virginia is not likely to pass decoupling, according to lobbyists and officials. Unlike Florida, it's a state that recognizes the value of the horse racing industry to its economy and heritage.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


it's all about money and who can legally steal it.I read one comment that said west virginia would probably not decouple because of their horse racing heritage.Did u notice how long it took certain powers toward decoupling to introduce this in west virginia?Florida will be the first domino to fall,u know the rest

once again the Florida voter is disenfranchised. We never voted in casinos until they were COUPLED with live racing, be it dog or horse. Thousands of jobs and side industries will suffer this travesty should it come to pass.

To stop this you must connect the dots from the politicians pockets to the casinos. They're taking massive campaign contributions as a pay back for killing pari mutual. This is happening everywhere. Kansas is fighting the same thing right now. If you don't expose the connections between the politicians and the casinos you can forget racing. They killed it in Kansas and the fight to get it back it all uphill.

I am in the horse business, Gulfstream Park had it's best day ever last Saturday, Horse racing will always be a part of the Florida economy as it was for years before the casino's. go to my website and click on the Florida Horse a 11 minute segment on the economic impact of the Florida Horse industry.

This is outrageous. The horse business creates hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars over and over and what do the pols do? The idiots try to kill the horse business and replace it with metal pickpockets and poker tables. Shame on the elected officials involved including Rick Scott. They will not get away with this, vote them OUT.

So you're just trying to say that you want to take my livelihood from me. Horse racing isn't just the race horse and the jockey. It consists of the hot walker who cools down the thoroughbred after he/she runs whether the animal exercises at the training facility or the racetrack, then there is the groom who bathes the horse makes the horse pretty cleans the horses feet and scrape the stalls and feed, then comes the exercise rider who exercises the horse over at the racetrack or the training center making sure the horse trains for their next race and reports to the Forman and assistant trainer or trainer on how that horse ran that morning, then there is the Forman who makes sure everything runs smoothly, then there is the assistant trainer who basically is the life on that barn and work 24 hours a day on call 7 days a week, then there is the trainer who is the main person who deals with the owners and with his horses making sure that barn is running correctly and smoothly and it's the trainer who takes all the bullshit especially when he has uneducated children working there who want to act like juveniles and I'm almost positive every barn in the United States of America have one or two of those working for them and you want to take all these people's jobs from them for what reason?

It breaks my heart to see horse racing on the ropes here. Hialeah is/was one of the most beautiful tracks in the world. To see it go down makes me sick. I was a hotwalker 40 years ago at Belmont and worked for Lucian Laurin, trainer of Secretariat. I had the time of my life. Now I only visit racetracks. It saddens me to see them go down to poker machines.

I agree with you 100% Hialieah has the best turf in the world and only the horse people know that .It is a shame that track is left behind! I hope some shaik from Saudi Arabia will see the potential that track has. Someone has to do something.Mr Bennetti who owns that track has not vision !!!

I agree with you 100% Hialieah has the best turf in the world and only the horse people know that .It is a shame that track is left behind! I hope some shaik from Saudi Arabia will see the potential that track has. Someone has to do something.Mr Bennetti who owns that track has not vision !!!

Welcome to what happened to Michigan racing. Michigan is really done

PS: We will remember this in the voting booth next time these politicians come up for re-election.

It saddens me to think that this was not put out to the public for a vote. Gambling destroys communities and breeds corruption and crime. What in the world are they thinking?

Shame on these crooked politicians. You are suppose to be creating jobs not taking them away. And to you Casino owners, if it were not for the horses you never would of had your licences granted. Don't know how you can look at yourself in the mirror. Obviously your conscious does not bother you.

The sponsors of these bills, Sen. Joe Negron and others,  should be removed from office for violating their oath of office. They swore to defend and support the Constitution of the State of Florida. Decoupling and other parts of these bills go against the Constitutional amendment that the voters approved. These legislators know they're trying to do an end run around the Constitution. They are driven by greed and payoffs not by good intentions. They surely have been swayed by casino and Seminole lobbyists and moneymen. Ultimately their duty was to defend the Constitution. They have turned their back on it and many of the hardworking citizens and visitors to this once great state. Toss them out, now, on their well padded asses and charge them as the criminals that they are.

You are right on point.

Decoupling does two things. First, it is the permanent separation of the on site casino revenue from the funding of the purses. Second, it is the elimination of the requirement of having live racing. Currently, all pari mutual facilities with casinos must use slot revenue for purses AND to run live races to keep their slot licenses. Decoupling in effect, creates stand alone casinos with no requirement to race or fund. The concept of partial decoupling means that the thoroughbreds will remain coupled to the casinos while others are decoupled.... To decouple the dogs and to keep the horses coupled is a formula that will not last. This idea will not stand the test of time and if allowed to happen, it will with certainty put horse racing as the target to be decoupled next. With decoupling, and the loss of guaranteed racing, the ability to support year round horse racing in South Florida becomes suspect. Year round quality racing is critical to both the Florida racing and breeding industry. The FHBPA remains steadfast in its position to fight decoupling in any form. Bill White - President FHBPA

Sad day, another sad day, for the real Florida. I just wonder what these greedy folks can buy with their money. Shallow and crasse will aways be "shallow and crasse".

Aside of the obvious , isn't horse racing like the oldest gambling past time? There has to be live racing to have simulcast wagering....This bill sucks all the way around. I recently visited a local casino, the slots are computer operated thieves. We wished we could've gone to the live racing around the corner of said Casino.Definitely would've had better luck! Signed, Lifelong TB Racetracker

It appears that FHBPA has seriously overplayed their hand by insisting that NO segment of the pari-mutuel industry should be permitted to decouple--although it is obvious to everyone--especially the legislature--that there is NO industry in Florida connected to QH racing or harness racing or dog racing or jai alai. So by not focusing on protecting the thoroughbred industry which actually exists, but instead by attempting to also protect all of these non-industries, FHBPA may have screwed us all.

Your view is narrow. There is industry connected to harness racing in Florida. There are training centers, and standardbred farms, also all that goes with that - farriers, veterinarians, tack & feed supply, bedding, track materials, as well as the trainers, drivers, caretakers and on and on. I live in Ohio and send my standardbred babies to Florida for winter training. The problem is not the FHBPA's stance. In fact horseracing should be an umbrella that includes the thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses. If horseracing doesn't stand united in battles such as these, what happens to one will eventually happen to all.

I strenuously disagree. As if Nazi Germany to those that turned their backs on what the Nazis were doing to the Jewish people, the Christians didn't try to intervene because they felt that they were safe until the Nazis started to round up the Catholic clergy and then the Protestant clergy...The FHBPA understands that although the initial bills aren't trying to kill them first, if they stand by and allow the decoupling of harness horses (BTW, there is a real harness horse industry in Florida and Pompano Park's handle was up 35% last year with another 35% increase on target for this year) and the other pair-mutuels then they will be the next to be rounded up and killed. The FTBOA doesn't seem to understand this with the compelling question being if racing is decoupled or severely limited with lower purses, who in the world will be breeding Florida-bred thoroughbreds? There are 12,000+ jobs tied in to the entire horse racing and breeding industry in Florida with a 2+ billion annual economic impact for the state. The casinos cannot possibly bring in that kind of economic impact and the legislature is turning a blind eye to the real losses that decoupling will cause.

Sounds like another desperate casino schill hard at work in Central Florida.

Somebody better wake up fast...

This is very sad news that casino gambling will be able to dismiss Horse Racing and all the jobs associated with it. If Florida Racing Falls get ready America, the rest of Racing will fall. Greedy politicians trying to line their pockets. Now you understand why Donald Trump will be the next President of the US, the voters are fed up with the lies and stealing of lifetime Politicians.

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nancy smith

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