02/17/2016 5:22PM

Florida bill allowing tracks to drop racing advances


A Florida Senate committee advanced two gambling bills on Wednesday that would permit most of the state’s parimutuel facilities to drop their live racing operations but would also create a purse pool for Thoroughbred racing subsidies estimated at $40 million a year.

The gambling bills are designed to grant legislative approval to a compact negotiated late last year between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Indian tribe. The compact has triggered a massive lobbying effort by parimutuel operators on a variety of issues, but the most controversial, from the standpoint of Thoroughbred horsemen, has been an effort by some parimutuel operators to be allowed to drop their money-losing racing businesses while still retaining their licenses to operate casino-type games.

The bills advanced by the Senate Florida Regulated Industries Committee would permit greyhound tracks, harness tracks, Hialeah Park, and Gulfstream West (formerly Calder Race Course) to decouple their racing licenses from their casino licenses, potentially leading to mass closures of parimutuel facilities if the legislation is signed into law. But they would not allow either Gulfstream Park or Tampa Bay Downs to decouple, and they also require the Seminole tribe and the parimutuel operators who have shuttered their racing operations to provide an estimated $20 million each annually in subsidies to Gulfstream’s and Tampa’s purses from their casino operations.

Combined, Tampa and Gulfstream run approximately 300 live racing dates a year when including race dates at Gulfstream Park West, the name given to a two-month meet at Calder that is operated under a lease by the owner of Gulfstream. At that number, the $40 million annual subsidy will provide for approximately $130,000 in additional purse money and breeders’ awards for every day of live racing.

“I think we’ve bent over backwards to accommodate [Thoroughbred] interests,” said Sen. Joe Negron, a member of the committee.

Two Thoroughbred industry representatives, Tom Ventura of the Ocala Breeders Sales Company and Lonny Powell of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, spoke during the hearing on the legislation, and both thanked the committee members for acknowledging the Thoroughbred industry’s concerns about the impact of the bills.

“Your purse pool is certainly appreciated as a platform we can build upon,” Powell, the chief executive of the FTBOA, said.

The bills would also lower the tax rate on slot machines at parimutuel facilities from 35 percent to 25 percent. A portion of the savings would be directed into the purse pool. Gulfstream Park, which is owned by The Stronach Group, currently takes bets on 800 machines.

The owner of Calder, Churchill Downs Inc., would be allowed to continue to own and operate a casino at the track, but it would be allowed to decouple the parimutuel permit that is currently being leased to The Stronach Group under a six-year deal signed in 2014. Calder’s long-term future as a racetrack is unclear; Churchill has said in its financial statements that it plans to tear down the grandstand and redevelop the portions of the property used for racing operations, such as the racing surfaces and barn area.

While the Thoroughbred industry received lucrative carve-outs and protections, other parimutuel constituencies did not fare well. Jack Cory, president of the Florida Greyhound Association, said that most of the state’s 39 greyhound tracks would close if the bills pass, and, because the bills allow for parimutuel licensees to also operate slot machines, the legislation would lead to 39 new casinos in the state.

Negron countered that the bills do not require greyhound tracks to give up their parimutuel licenses, and that the legislation would only give those companies the option to cease live racing.

“Nothing [in these bills] stops greyhound racing from continuing,” Negron said.

The bills were the result of months of negotiations between legislators and various gambling constituencies, and their main provisions are expected to be endorsed in the Senate and House. A House committee advanced similar legislation last week.





Donald More than 1 year ago
the closest dog track yo us in Fla has been barely running any dogs live for years,just a few weeks a year in the spring they tell me they have to run live dogs in order to keep parimutuel liscence. they have dogs,Hai Lai,thorobreds and trotters on tv,and have had a poker/texas holdem room on the old club house level.dont know how the poker room does but on weekdays the OTB room downstairs is Not busy,its busiest in snow bird season but thats it.the horseplayers I know don't go upstairs.i have no idea what effect slots would have,my understanding is the local city gov is not in favor of slots,but they mayhave no choice in the matter.machines wont be a job creator,all the casinos up here are automated,black jack poker etc,all machines ,no dealers no cage and cashiers all machines now.
George Johns More than 1 year ago
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
And here is exibit A as to why racetracks should fight casinos and not include them on tracks. It's only a matter of time before casinos get legislators to decouple the casino licenses from live racing and then you wil see casinos fight to not give racing a penny. And as corrupt as politicians are it's going to be easy..there is one thing standing in their way ..your vote.
Tim More than 1 year ago
Amen from the choir...
daffney More than 1 year ago
why give the criminal horsemen anything? drugs and cheats everywhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
there are many dedicated, hard working people in the business of horse racing. Do Not let the actions of a very small percentage of the group who do not abide by the rules taint the reputation of the everyone who earns their living in the business. While I have no idea what business you are involved with , there are probably some people in it who do not conduct their affairs honorably.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Stay on your meds, your finally making some sense. Good comment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
what meds ?
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Medicine to keep you sane
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hey Daffy- There are criminals all over politics and gubbamint but some body is gonna be made your next Prez... Wuddaya do wit dat?
Karen Richardson More than 1 year ago
Do you think the people behind the casinos won't have their fair share of criminals? The difference is casinos have only machines and dollars to think about. Casinos have popped up everywhere in the past 10 years. Horse racing has been around for over a century. The Kentucky Derby is the oldest spectator sport in the US! It has been around longer than baseball! Racetracks are responsible for employing far more people the casinos. The horsemen you call criminals are in it out of love for the sport, and most definitely for love of the horses. This business is a micro economy that, if lost, could devastate the economies of many states. Can you expect the same from a casino? When casino licenses are coupled with track licenses, there might be a "checks and balances" system to keep all involved looking out for the best interests of all. Then there is the horses. This industry has put in place so many options for retired horses, injured jockeys, backstretch employees. I am not aware of any other business that does the same for their "employees". Horse-racing is not an easy business. There is so much more that goes into each decision than just figuring out which machine to put where. We are dependent on so many people, the rules that change from state to state, finances, and even weather! I used to wonder why the racing industry was opposed to joining the casino craze. Now it is clear.