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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – DECOUPLING THWARTED AGAIN

It looks like the House and Senate rolled snake eyes on passing the Gaming Compact for 2017. On Tuesday, May 2nd, it was announced that talks collapsed as the House and Senate were too far apart on the issues. The Senate plan called for a huge expansion in gaming throughout Florida and the House attempted to put strict limits on any gaming expansion.

So, what does this mean for Thoroughbred Racing in Florida? Well, for now, it’s a very good thing in that the core issue which the Florida HBPA has been fighting all along, decoupling, has been laid to rest for another year. For now, that means business as usual, and the horsemen can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Proof of the strength of competing interests is the fact that a legislative compromise could not be reached despite a proposed agreement with the Seminole Tribe, which was the energy and the main part of the debated gaming legislation, and, which would bring the State up to $3 billion in new revenue over 5 years.

It appears the big impasse, was that the Senate wanted to expand gaming by allowing slot machines in Brevard, Duval, Gadsen, Lee, Hamilton, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties. The Senate also advocated the creation of two full-fledged casinos on Miami Beach. Other than with the Seminole Tribe, slots are currently allowed only at pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. This established and ongoing gaming was approved by both statewide and local county referenda nearly ten years ago.

Horsemen across the state need to remember that had the Senate plan passed with decoupling, it would have allowed horse, dog racing, and jai-alai industries to stop racing and operate as slot casinos exclusively.

The impasse also left ADW regulation and Fantasy Sports regulation in the lurch.

FHBPA President Bill White stated, “The death of the gaming bill was a huge win for the Thoroughbred Industry. Decoupling would not only sever the revenues from the casinos, it would eliminate the legal requirement to run live races. The gaming bill will again surface next year when the legislature reconvenes and we will remain engaged. The FHBPA has made its position clear, we are against decoupling in any form for any pari-mutuel entity.”

Approximately $20 million a month is paid to the state by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This flow of funds could be in jeopardy if a hearing on June 19th in Leon county upends the 2010 Compact.

According to FHBPA Vice President Chester Bishop, “There is also talk inside the Capital of a special session later this summer thereby putting the decoupling issue right back in the forefront for horsemen.”

So, it’s not over until it’s over. The Florida State Courts have several gaming cases they have yet to rule on. These court cases under consideration could have a negative impact on Thoroughbred Racing revenues as it may create a situation where any permit in a county could become a standalone casino through a local referendum.

Make no mistake about it, the FHBPA is not dropping its guard. The FHBPA will remain vigilant and aggressive in fighting any and all attempts at decoupling. Especially those that may try to sneak into subsequent gaming bills presented to the House and Senate.

“The FHBPA is fully engaged in the legislative process and, along with the strong representation we have in Tallahassee, we will continue to do our best to protect the interests of thoroughbred horsemen racing in South Florida,” concluded FHBPA Executive Director Glen Berman.