Status of Florida Gaming Bill Uncertain

The racing and breeding industry, however, made its case during a Feb. 3 hearing.

At a Florida Senate Gaming Committee meeting Feb. 3, the Florida Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse industries renewed their request for the Florida legislature to clarify state laws on the definition of a horse race and released a study on breeding and racing's impact on Florida's economy.

The committee is using information from the racing and breeding industry as it prepares to write a bill that would make significant changes in Florida's regulation and oversight of Thoroughbred racing and gaming. Even though Senate Gaming Committee chairman Garrett Richter, a Republican, described current regulation and oversight as a "patchwork," there are reports that other leaders in the legislature do not plan to make the gambling business a priority this year.

At the meeting, representatives of the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse industries told the committee they hope a gaming bill will include a clarification that would prevent a recurrence of pari-mutuel barrel racing that Gretna Racing LLC began holding in December 2011 under a Quarter Horse license. Last May the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings ruled that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering acted illegally in granting a racing license to Gretna Racing, which is located about 25 miles west of Tallahassee.

The Florida DPMW told Gretna Racing to stop pari-mutuel barrel racing but allowed it to keep a poker room. Gretna Racing has appealed the administrative court's order to the Florida First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.

Richter said he expects his committee will complete the first draft of a gaming bill by the end of February. The legislature will hold its2014 regular session from March 4-May 2.

Richter said he favors passage of a gaming bill this year. But the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Feb. 4 that Senate President Dan Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, both Republicans, do not plan to have gaming among their priorities in this year's legislative session.

Meanwhile, Richter said issues the Senate Gaming Committee will consider include creation of a state gaming commission and restructuring of the racing regulatory agency; whether pari-mutuel outlets sport should be permitted to "decouple" and not have live events while still having simulcasts, poker, and casinos; and whether to authorize any new destination resort hotels that would have casinos with the first legalized roulette and craps games in Florida. Those casinos also would have poker, blackjack and Las Vegas-style slot machines.

Lonny Powell, chief executive officer of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, and Dr, Steve Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, testified at the meeting. Two officials of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, president Phil Combest and executive director Kent Stirling, could not attend because of a flight delay from Fort Lauderdale to Tallahassee.

Economist Will Cummings of Boston-based Will E. Cummings Associates presented the racing and breeding industry study. Using data racetracks provided to the Florida DPMW and a survey of breeders and trainers, the study estimated the Florida horse racing and breeding industry had an economic impact (combined direct and indirect) of $905.5 million in 2012.

The study estimated that the industry was responsible for 12,188 jobs, combined direct and indirect, with total compensation of $400.1 million in 2012. Cummings said about 90% of those numbers attributed to the Thoroughbred industry, with the remainder from the Quarter Horse and Standardbred industries.

He said the data points to the long-standing role horse racing and breeding has played in Florida, and he urged the committee to remember that when it considers any new tax incentives and expansion of gaming products. The study was sponsored by the Florida HBPA, Florida TBOA, the Ocala Breeders Sales Co., and the Florida QHRA.