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What Florida Horsemen Are Up Against: Become Engaged

By

William P. White

June 14, 2016 - 6:00am


Decoupling currently is and has been a hotly contested subject and remains on the legislative menu for this coming year.  We expect the issue to quickly boil to the surface again during the next legislative session.

Decoupling, is generally the removal of a race track's (permit holder) requirement to use casino money to FUND and to RUN lives races. 

Remaining coupled (which is currently in place) means that the casino stays connected to racing and helps fund purses and guarantee racing days.
 
The goal of the pro-decoupling forces is the stoppage of the requirement to race and to create stand-alone casinos. 

The end result is the stoppage of BOTH live racing and the sharing of the profits with horses. All casino money with decoupling goes to the casino owners.
 
Here is what we currently risk with decoupling:

  • The FHBPA in South Florida has contracts in place that guarantee over 240 race days.

  • We have total purses paid that are over $70 million a year and are climbing. 

  • We have negotiated purse contracts that guarantee a minimum average purse of $225,000 per day during the summer season and $400,000 per day during the winter.

  • We have a PERPETUAL slot agreement with Gulfstream Park at 12 percent and nearly FIVE years remaining at Calder at 10 percent. 

  • The two tracks combined generate around $13,500,000 from slots per year that are part of the total above stated purses.

    Decoupling jeopardizes all of this.
     
    It was debated this past legislative session that PARTIAL decoupling would work.

    Partial decoupling is to decouple the dogs, Hialeah, Calder, quarter horse  and harness horses and keep Gulfstream and Tampa coupled. 

    Importantly, it also clears the path to decouple all of the quarter horse permits that have been the center of controversy with one currently being debated in front of the Florida Supreme Court.
     
    The strategy to energize the  decoupling movement  is to  attack the low hanging fruit (dogs, Quarter Horses, Standardbreds, etc.) and to leave Gulfstream Park  and Tampa Bay Downs alone -- FOR NOW.

    The track owners for the dogs, Quarter Horses and Standardbreds are all on the forefront of pushing for decoupling and have a strong lobbying presence in Tallahassee.

    The casinos are putting up big money to make decoupling happen.
     
    It is suggested that the answer is to create a "purse pool" where those that are decoupled would be required to distribute money to Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

    An example of the "purse pool"  concept is if a dog track decouples, it would have to give part of its profits to tracks that remain coupled and are running live races.

    On face value, it is difficult to see how you could require one pari-mutuel facility to subsidize another competing facility down the street through its profits.
     
    The "purse pool" concept is a loosely, not-yet-defined or understood concept that has more questions than answers:
     

  • How much money would come from decoupled tracks?

  • Who would determine the amount given and received?  

  • Who would control the money? 

  • How much would the tracks keep and how much would go to purses?

  • Who would be in charge of enforcement and how would it be enforced?

  • Who would be eligible to receive money from the pool and who would have to pay?

  • How much comes from the state, Seminoles and/or taxes?

  • Does the purse pool money come from slots or cards?

  • What is the total amount of money to purse pools and how long would it be guaranteed?

     The FHBPA has little confidence that this formula would work, last or could be enforced. It is our opinion that if other pari-mutuels are allowed to decouple, it is only a matter of time before Thoroughbreds will be decoupled.
     
    It is the FHBPA's position that if all horsemen stay united, we can pass positive legislation or prevent onerous legislation.

    The FHBPA will listen to, and be part of, the process to formulate a possible solution to these issues. But rest assured, we will defend what we currently have in place.
     
    All horsemen, you must become engaged in the decoupling issue and make your opinions heard.
    We ask for, and need, your help.
     
    Please contact us at the FHBPA at any time with questions or suggestions.
    We are eager to hear from you.

    William P. "Bill" White is president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA). He wrote this as a summary of the May 19 decoupling meeting at the Ocala Southeastern Livestock Pavilion. 

     

 

State, Seminole Tribe press arguments in gambling dispute

Jun 7, 2016, 7:37am EDT  Tampa Bay Business Journal

Accusing the state of essentially reneging on a 2010 deal, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is asking a federal judge to declare that tribal casinos have permission to keep operating banked card games, including blackjack, for 15 more years.

In a motion for summary judgment filed Friday, the Seminoles also asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to order the state back to the negotiating table in a last-ditch effort to try to resolve differences over the games.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, meanwhile, filed a motion Friday asking Hinkle to rule against the tribe on an allegation that the state failed to negotiate in good faith.

The dueling motions for summary judgment come in a dispute over the Seminoles' "exclusive" right to operate banked card games, including blackjack, at five of the tribe's seven casinos. That exclusivity was part of a broader 20-year deal, called a "compact," signed in 2010.

In exchange for the banked card games, the tribe promised to pay the state a minimum of $1 billion over five years, an amount which it has exceeded. But the five-year agreement regarding the cards expired on July 31. The terms of the compact gave the Seminoles a 90-day "grace period" after the agreement expired to continue operating the banked card games.

But after mediation failed, the tribe filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that Florida officials had failed to negotiate in "good faith" on a new deal.

The Seminoles' lawsuit is centered on two types of games — controversial "designated-player" card games and blackjack played with electronic cards — authorized by state gambling regulators at pari-mutuel facilities. The tribe contends those games violate the exclusivity provision of the compact regarding banked card games.

"Despite the promises it made in the compact, within a year of its approval, the state began permitting others to conduct various types of banked card games without explanation or justification," the tribe's attorneys, Barry Richard and Joseph Webster, wrote in Friday's 31-page motion.

Regulators in 2011 first approved the designated-player — also called "player-banked" — games, in which the "bank" is another player, instead of the "house." The designated players almost always are employees of third-party companies.

Under Florida law, a "banking game" is defined as one "in which the house is a participant in the game, taking on players, paying winners, and collecting from losers or in which the cardroom establishes a bank against which participants play." Pari-mutuel cardrooms are allowed to conduct games in which players compete only against each other.

"DBPR has acknowledged that the designated player serves as 'essentially the bank for the game,' " the lawyers wrote, quoting the deposition of Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson.

The games have since swept the state, and are involved in an unrelated, pending administrative complaint.

Also in 2011, gambling regulators authorized electronic blackjack games, the Seminoles lawyers' argued. The tribe put the state on notice in 2011 and again the following year that the games violate the Seminoles' exclusivity regarding banked games, the lawyers wrote.

"The use of electronic cards does not change the nature of the game," the Seminoles' lawyers wrote. "The only material difference between the DigiDeal electronic blackjack game and traditional blackjack found in Las Vegas and other casinos is that the cards used are electronic."

The tribe also accused the state of failing to negotiate about the banked card games in "good faith," as required by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs tribal gambling, Richards and Webster wrote.

"The state refused to participate in any negotiations regarding such games unless they were part of a renegotiation of the entire compact. It also demanded a substantial increase in the state's revenue share as a condition of such an amended compact without specifying any new benefits for the tribe that would justify the increase sought," they wrote.

Amid the legal wrangling, Scott and tribal leader James Billie in December signed a proposed 20-year compact in which the tribe pledged to pay the state $3 billion over seven years in exchange for being able to add craps and roulette to its casino operations. Lawmakers failed to authorize the proposed deal, however, during the legislative session that ended in March.

The burden of negotiating in "good faith" rests not just with the governor, but with the Legislature as well, the tribe's lawyers argued.

If the compact was not satisfactory to the Legislature, it "could have enacted an amended version and submitted it to the tribe" or reached out to the tribe to propose amendments to the plan signed by Scott, the tribe's lawyers wrote.

"It did neither," they wrote.

The Seminoles are asking Hinkle to declare that the tribe is permitted to operate the banked card games for the remainder of the 20-year compact, which expires in 2030, and to force the state to negotiate. Under federal law, if no agreement is reached within 60 days, each side would submit a proposed compact to a mediator, who would choose one of the plans.

In a dueling motion for partial summary judgment Friday, lawyers for Scott and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation focused on the continued existence of the broader compact as they sought to scuttle the tribe's arguments about a lack of good-faith negotiations.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars the tribe from claiming the state failed to negotiate new terms when a compact remains in place, the state's lawyers wrote.

The state's lawyers alleged in the motion that the "tribe's current suit is an improper attempt to make an end-run around the bargained-for expiration of the tribe's authorization to conduct banking or banked card games."

"When the 2010 compact was being negotiated, the CEO of the tribe's gaming operations proposed the five-year limitation on the tribe's authorization to conduct banked card games because the state Legislature was unwilling to approve a 20-year authorization," the motion said. "The tribe persuaded the state to authorize banked card games by proposing to include in the 20-year compact a five-year limitation on the tribe's authorization to conduct banked card games."

The state rejected the Seminoles' argument that the five-year card deal was intended to be renewed for the remainder of the compact if the games were successful.

"While at the tribe's suggestion the 2010 compact provided the state with the opportunity to extend the authorization to conduct banking or banked card games through an affirmative act of the Florida Legislature, it is undisputed that the Florida Legislature has not provided such authorization," lawyers for the state wrote. "Neither the 2010 compact nor the IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) provides the tribe with a right to sue the state under these circumstances to secure a different deal than the one it negotiated in 2010. Therefore, the state is entitled judgment as a matter of law on the tribe's claim for violation of IGRA's good-faith negotiation requirement."

 

Ruling over rural racetrack could direct Florida's gaming future

  • TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether a nascent, small racetrack in the impoverished North Florida town of Gretna will turn the tables on the state's gambling future.

    The issue before the court is whether Gretna Racing is entitled to slot machines because voters approved a countywide referendum in 2012. If the court agrees, the ruling will go far beyond rural Gadsden County.

    It will have repercussions from Palm Beach and Naples to Jacksonville, and could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state. It could also change the terms of the $250 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida —which is invalidated if slot machines are allowed outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.

    At least five other counties—Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington — have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. They each have already completed applications for a slots license and Palm Beach has announced it could install them within weeks. Other counties, including Duval and Marion, are prepared to conduct a referendum, too, if the court agrees with Gretna.

    If the court rejects Gretna's argument, however, the pressure will be back on legislators to fix what many consider a porous gaming regulatory structure — rife with room for legal loopholes, pursued by gambling lobbyists to win slots licenses, and subject to inconsistent interpretations by Florida regulators.

    In the past five years, often depending on who is giving directions within Gov. Rick Scott's executive office, the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering has lurched back and forth about whether "barrel racing" and "flag drops" constitute legitimate pari-mutuel events.

    So even as the court rules on whether counties can bypass the Legislature to authorize slot machines, it could leave unaddressed a lingering question that has been looming over the tiny Gretna track for years: Is the racetrack a legitimate pari-mutuel?

    State statutes require that for a facility to be entitled to card rooms it must be considered a licensed pari-mutuel. And for it to be granted a slots license, it must have conducted live racing or jai alai events for two years.

    "The question is: Can the state arbitrarily overturn the approval of a sham pari-mutuel, even if the approval should never have been granted?" said Steve Geller, former state senator from Hallandale Beach and now a gaming lawyer. "The answer is a firm maybe."

    For Gretna Racing, a favorable court ruling would be the culmination of years of litigation and creative legal footwork by its owners — Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyists Marc Dunbar and David Romanik, who have joined with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama to build the facility.

    Their goal since they first broke ground on the 100-acre site 25 miles west of Tallahassee along Interstate 10 was to build the biggest entertainment and gambling complex east of Biloxi. The owners envisioned an equestrian center and horse track, with a convention hotel and restaurants.

    They persuaded regulators to approve their creative plan for meeting the requirement to conduct live racing for two years. And they earned community support for a referendum by promising that a slots casino would bring hundreds of jobs to an economy struggling with an 18 percent unemployment rate and a median income of its majority black residents of $18,000.

    It was an ambitious goal in a state that had not seen a pari-mutuel establishment start from scratch in decades. But before they can declare victory, the court must rule on the questions: Does the Florida Constitution authorize all counties to have slot machines at pari-mutuels, or just those in Miami-Dade and Broward? Must the Legislature approve all gambling expansion or can local communities do it by referendum?

    And, if addressed by the court, the question that comes with the most political intrigue and could also have far-reaching consequences: What constitutes a legitimate pari-mutuel eligible for card games and slots?

    Gambling opponents, including the anti-gaming group No Casinos and former Gov. Bob Graham, have said, in briefs filed in the case, that Florida's Constitution limits slots licenses to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, as approved by voters in state and local referendums in 2003 and 2004.

    The original referendum was funded by seven pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward, but Hialeah Racetrack and Palm Beach Kennel Club did not participate so they were not eligible for slots. In 2009, legislators rewrote state gambling laws to allow Hialeah to be included among those eligible for slots. That statute is what Gretna, Palm Beach and pari-mutuel operators in the four other counties are using as their window for expanding gambling — saying that the law allows for expansion by local referendum.

    Attorney General Pam Bondi, however, argues that it was never the Legislature's intent in 2009 to allow communities to bypass the Legislature and let voters authorize slot machines through a countywide referendum.

    Unlike the existing pari-mutuels in Palm Beach, Brevard and Lee counties that race dogs and operate card rooms, Gretna is the newcomer with a unique problem: It has an unconventional, short race track.

    In 2011, after the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association determined that Gretna's track was unsafe, the track's owners decided to forgo operating industry-sanctioned quarter horse races and instead applied for a permit to conduct "barrel races" as a pari-mutuel event.

    Regulators had "never seen anything like it," said Milt Champion, head of the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering. "It would have been my position not to approve it."

    But in September 2011, Champion was instead asked to resign by Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson.

    "He told me Marc Dunbar and the governor's (then) chief of staff )Steve MacNamara) and their families are very close and they wanted me to resign, so I resigned," Champion told the Times/Herald in 2012 and confirmed again last week.

    Dunbar said through a spokesman that he would be conducting no interviews before the oral arguments.

    With a new pari-mutuel chief installed at the Division of Pari-mutuel wagering in October 2011, state regulators granted Gretna Racing an unprecedented "barrel racing" license. The rodeo-style races continued to operate for the next 18 months until May 2013, when an administrative court judge ruled that the agency had no authority to expand gambling by sanctioning a new pari-mutuel sport absent legislative approval.

    Dunbar and Rominik quickly returned with a new, unconventional idea for a pari-mutuel race: Conduct a "flag drop" event in which a cloth is waved and two riders race against each other for a short distance.

    The department awarded them a "flag drop" permit in June 2013, a month after the court ruled that barrel racing was not a legitimate pari-mutuel sport. A similar quarter horse event was held in April 2012, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, for which Dunbar is an attorney. In 2014, the division gave a similar permit to Hamilton Downs, another small race track built by the owners of Hamilton Jai Alai.

    The horse racing industry has argued that the flag drop events constitute "phony horse racing" and have stymied the growth of both the thoroughbred and quarter horse racing and breeding industries in Florida.

    They, and lawyers for other pari-mutuels, have raised concerns that the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering has been "acquiescing" to Dunbar and Romanik by allowing illegitimate and unlawful pari-mutuel races.

    But in the past year, the division started to reverse course and crack down on the "flag drop" events at Hamilton Downs. It accused the track of violating state horse racing rules because races lacked speed and the track failed to conduct the required number of races.

    Hamilton Downs sued, arguing it had violated no rules. Last month, Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early sided with the flag-drop promoters, saying the division's vague rules gave regulators no authority to punish Hamilton Downs for the way it was conducting the races.

    But Early also acknowledged that he was doubtful the events "could be construed as horse racing." He described them as "more evocative of an Our Gang comedy short than an undercard at Pimlico."

    Gretna Racing has also watched as courts attempted to interpret other pieces of the state's laws relating to pari-mutuels.

    In 2014, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled that slot machines were allowed because Gadsden County voters had approved a referendum authorizing them. But Attorney General Pam Bondi asked for a rehearing after one of the judges in the case retired and a new, three-judge panel ruled 2-1 against the Gretna track. Gretna Racing appealed and the Florida Supreme Court will decide its fate.

    Geller, the former state senator, believes that no matter what happens with the court ruling, legal fights over gaming will continue.

    "Any time you have extremely large amounts of money that are in question and an industry that is highly regulated, everyone will try and look for loopholes and vagueness — and exploit them,'' he said. "As one administrative law judge said, it may be a scam but it's a legal scam."

    Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for when Dunbar and Rominik were awarded a "flag drop" permit.

    Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report. Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas. 6/5/16

 

Casino Decoupling End-Run Fails At 2016 Florida Legislative Session’s Close

Posted on March 13, 2016March 13, 2016 NoDecoupling

 

Casino revenue earned in Florida should work for Florida. Not pad the pockets of Big Casinos.Decoupling Defeated for Now

Even though decoupling as part of the Seminole Gaming Compact legislation was declared “dead” last Friday, March 4, a hostile decoupling amendment had been quietly filed the same day to HB 1187 and later to SB 1050 this week.

With pari-mutuel issues notoriously known to surface during the latest stages of the process, United Florida Horsemen stood strong against decoupling to ensure legislators knew our total opposition right up to today’s official conclusion of the 2016 Florida Legislative Session.

Working as NoDecoupling.com to defeat the attempt to kill live horse racing and harness racing days, and thus competitive purses in Florida, United Florida Horsemen represented nearly 350,000 racehorse owners, trainers, breeders and their employees in Florida and nationwide in the fight, spearheaded by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the American Quarter Horse Association and U.S. Trotting.

United Florida Horsemen issued the following statement on the defeat of decoupling on March 11, 2016 at the Session’s conclusion:

“This week’s attempts at expanding gambling in Florida were not unexpected.  Obviously, Florida’s horsemen are relieved that the end-run full decoupling amendments floated during these past few days were unsuccessful, but more important than that, we are pleased to know that our state legislators have taken pause to recognize and better understand the far-reaching positive economic impact of the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Standardbred industries here in the ‘Horse Capital of the World.’

“With Florida’s laser focus on creating business and jobs, our horsemen–racehorse owners, trainers, breeders and their employees–have often felt disenfranchised as to why their economic contributions don’t seem to be on the political radar.  Indeed, during this Session, thousands of people who do business in Florida’s horse racing industry and the tens of thousands of people we employ seemed to be almost unwanted, if not oddly cast aside as disposable and non-human in the push by Big Casinos to put a one-armed bandit on every Florida corner.  

“Horsemen don’t think there will ever be an appropriate time or place to diminish the importance of anyone’s job or business, especially when it garners the type of big money, international interest and financial success that Florida’s horse racing industry does.

“Make no mistake, however.  There will be no reprieve.  Like a giant money-sucking vacuum to Florida’s economy, the Big Casino expansion forces behind decoupling are plotting their return, of that horsemen are 100 percent certain.

“Meanwhile, slot revenue will continue to be put to work in Florida the way voters intended–hand in hand with live racing days to provide economic incentives that keep us competitive with more aggressive horse racing and breeding programs in other states–states that actively continue to try and lure away our best owners, trainers, jockeys, drivers, horses and–most importantly–our many hardworking people who contribute to Florida’s economy far beyond what any stand-alone slot machine could ever do.”

 

Florida Gaming, Decoupling Push Stalls

  • By Tom LaMarra,

  • March 1, 2016 2:56 PM Major gambling bills tied to a $3 billion compact with the Seminole tribe were removed from a Florida Senate committee agenda March 1 and may not be addressed before the end of the current legislative session.

    The compact bill is predicated on a 20-year deal Gov. Rick Scott signed with the tribe, which operates seven casinos in the state. A second bill that alters Scott's deal with the Seminoles includes an expansion of slot machines to new locations in Florida as well as provisions to end live requirements at most pari-mutuel facilities.

    The House Finance and Tax Committee Feb. 29 passed the gambling measure. On March 1, the Senate Appropriations Committee took a pass on similar legislation; the panel will meet again March 3.

    Committee chairman Sen. Tom Lee indicated the gambling bills probably will go no further during the session that ends March 11.

    Rep. Jose Diaz and Sen. Robert Bradley, who were part of the negotiating team on the proposed Seminole compact, had indicated accompanying legislation that alters the terms of the deal would be problematic. An attorney for the tribe, after the House committee vote Feb. 29, told Florida news outlets the changes aren't acceptable.

    The tribe had agreed to allow for a slots facility in Palm Beach County and a new one in Miami-Dade County. The House and Senate bills would allow for at least six slots facilities around the state.

    The tribe already has a compact with the state but has a lawsuit pending over alleged violations.

    Decoupling—removing statutory requirements for tracks to offer live racing in order to operate slots or card rooms—is being sold as a way to reduce gambling in Florida. It has the support of greyhound racing opponents as well as tracks that offer Quarter Horse and Standardbred racing.

    During the United States Trotting Association board meeting Feb. 28 in Ohio, Joe Pennacchio, president of the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, said the gaming bills in Florida "have gotten very heavy in the House and Senate." He said some members of the pari-mutuel industry raised about $5 million to push for decoupling; they also would pay a lower tax on their slots business.

    Isle of Capri Casinos, which owns Isle Casino at Pompano Park, the only harness track in the state, supports decoupling.

    The bill that passed the House Finance and Tax Committee states that if a track allows its racing license to lie dormant for 24 months, it can't renewed—or transferred to another entity like a horsemen's group.

    "It would kill harness racing in Florida forever," Pennacchio said. "It is the most egregious bill I've ever seen written. I don't understand why they want to kill us."

    There is no statutory language for the percentage of revenue from slots that must go to purses; tracks and horsemen's groups handle that through contract.

 

Anticipated Florida Supreme Court Slot Machine Ruling Could Ultimately Prove Meaningless

Posted on February 14, 2016February 14, 2016 NoDecoupling

Florida Would Expand Gambling Predicated on an Illegal Activity? While decoupling hangs in the balance, the general consensus around Florida’s Capitol is that gambling expansion in Florida could depend on whether the Florida Supreme Court rules that pari-mutuel permitholders outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties can have slot machines without legislative authorization.

But Sunshine State News Publisher Nancy Smith conjectured that would be ” . . . like Wall Street saying, ‘We can’t reverse the downward trend of the Dow until we get Bernie Madoff back.'”

She revealed in her column  the strange case of North Florida’s “Hamilton Downs,” a court hearing on which is scheduled for March 7-9.

Given that the State of Florida said in its 2014 complaint that Hamilton’s “flag drop” events  ” . . . do not qualify as horse races,” Smith explained that this raises the question of why the exact same events at nearby Gretna Racing LLC were not also singled out.

Thus, Smith said, the anticipated  could be ” . . . as meaningless as a campaign promise blowing in the wind.”

Read her game-changing “I Beg To Differ” column HERE.

Read the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s complaint against Hamilton Downs HERE.

 

Sorry, Florida Horsemen, Your Legislature Just Threw You Away

By

Nancy Smith

February 10, 2016 - 7:00am

http://sunshinestatenews.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_370w/public/story_images/begtodiffer-sunshinestatenews_1.jpg?itok=Dn3-zMP9

Florida horsemen are screwed. Only a miracle can save the $1.2 billion Florida horse racing industry they represent. Not a single savior emerged Tuesday.

 

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee quick-marched forward three bills in its revised gambling legislation, with only a handful of objections. In fact, not even one of the three lawmakers voting against the pari-mutuels bill (PCB RAC 16-02) did so because they want to preserve horse racing -- an economic engine that breathes life into hundreds of thousands of rural Florida families.

PCB RAC 16-02 would decouple greyhound, Harness and Quarter Horse racing, but would keep Thoroughbred racing at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs -- for how long, well, there are no guarantees, only incentives.

 

The new Seminole Compact? No problem. That was PCB RAC 16-01. It allows the Seminoles to add craps and roulette to their casinos in exchange for a minimum $3 billion paid to the state over seven years. And so it should. The Seminoles kept their end of the bargain throughout the term of their first compact.

 

But the other stuff is a mystery, I don't care how long House Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, has been slaving over these bills.

 

Besides the pari-mutuels gifthorse in 16-02, the third bill, PCB RAC 16-03, is another real cutie. It calls for a constitutional amendment to expand gambling in the future. Sounds citizen friendly, right? Wrong. It's cockeyed. Take the time to read this whole Obamacare-sized monster of a bill -- and how many lawmakers actually will do that? You'll find that any little glitch they didn't think about in this gaming act can't be fixed by the Legislature next session or the session after that or the session after that. It can only be fixed by constitutional amendment.

Any little change.

 

So there had better be no afterthoughts with this bill (which Diaz calls "a work in progress") because this is all she wrote, folks. The Legislature decides who gets more gambling, who gets shut down, who gets rich, who loses the farm (literally), who gets a tax reduction, who doesn't count. And THEN the Legislature says, oh, sorry, we don't want to make these decisions anymore, Florida voters, you do it.

 

On Tuesday, a number of horse ranchers had driven hundreds of miles to Tallahassee to spend three minutes addressing bill sponsor Diaz. But Diaz never paid these people the courtesy of listening to them. He had to "go present a bill" to another committee at the same time. Now, he could have shifted the meeting to place the speakers first so that wouldn't happen. But he didn't. Nor did he leave enough time for the other speakers who had traveled far and filled out cards to speak.

 

The only reference to these citizens, frankly, was shameful. It came as a condescending speech from Halsey Beshears, R-Monticelo, who admitted he didn't know much about the horse farming business, but then he apparently thought he knew enough about it to give them advice: "You'll have to find a new business."

 

You'll have to find a new business. Beshears' district also includes Apalachicola. I hope that isn't what he told the oyster fishermen. 

 

Bottom line, that's all the attention horse ranchers got. The negative kind. It was insensitive, and as Joe Pennacchio, president of the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, said after the meeting, "Just plain wrong. What other business are they supposed to find?

It doesn't matter that horse racing draws fewer spectators, Pennacchio said. Naturally people have more to do with their time today than they did in the 1950s. Racing itself is still making a lot of money for everybody. Owners want to race their horses in Florida.

 

Has any legislator ever asked for a state audit of the horse racing industry? Is there a single elected official who understands what's happening here?

 

Meanwhile, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, all set to vote on its version of the gambling legislation, postponed it until next week. That's because Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, filed a slew of amendments that pretty much shredded the Senate's original proposal.

 

Horsemen hoping to fare better in the Senate's hands? They've got about as much chance as the NRCC has of talking Donald Trump into dropping out.

 

Negron's amendments basically would give slots to pari-mutuels in each of the six counties, Palm Beach included, where voters approved them, and wherever else voters agree to them down the road. Oh, yes, he would decouple all dog and horse racing -- jai alai, too. Pari-mutuels could keep operating cardrooms and slot machines (keep a close eye on who's donating to Negron these days). Negron thinks $45 million is just right to beef up thoroughbred purse pools. That's $20 million from the compact, $25 million from revenues from slots and card games at pari-mutuels that stop racing or jai alai. 

 

Like I said, horsemen, you're so screwed. Whatever the "plan" the Legislature goes with:

Diaz is already convinced he has enough votes for a victory on the House floor. And Negron is the rising Senate president, who's going to get in his face?

 

And even if everything blows up and there's no deal, horsemen, you still lose. Owners -- recruited by states like Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland -- already are pulling their horses out of Florida. In anticipation.

 

We all know what your trouble was.

You guys couldn't match the other guys' special interest money. No special interest money = you're a dead duck.

Tuesday was a sad day for a lot of us.

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

- See more at: http://sunshinestatenews.com/story/sorry-florida-horsemen-your-legislature-just-threw-you-away#sthash.8dFpoYKP.dpuf

 

 

 

Florida’s Decoupling Losses Would Dwarf Any Seminole Compact Gains

 

Posted on February 4, 2016February 4, 2016 NoDecoupling

 

Florida Horsemen Continue To Totally Oppose ALL Decoupling

 

In the wake of