FTBOA to Panel: Allow Racing to Compete

Lonny Powell spoke to lawmakers during a Nov. 4 committee meeting.

Florida lawmakers should ensure the racing and breeding industry has the tools to compete in a competitive gambling market, the executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association said Nov. 4.

Lonny Powell, also chief executive officer for the FTBOA, made the comments during a meeting of the Florida Senate Gaming Committee, which is examining all forms of gambling in the state in advance of possible legislation authorizing destination resort casinos. The committee is relying on a study done by Spectrum Gaming of New Jersey.

"We don't come here looking for a free lunch," Powell told the committee. "All we ask is that you work with us in creating a fair playing field."

Of the three Thoroughbred tracks in Florida, Calder Casino & Race Course and Gulfstream Park have slot machines. Tampa Bay Downs does not have slots, which Powell called "a tragedy."

"Tampa Bay does an incredible job trying to compete without slots," Powell told lawmakers in response to a question from the committee. "They don't sit around and whine about it, but they are losing ground in the simulcast market. If Tampa Bay would have all the tools available–it's a big missing piece."

Tampa Bay Downs competes with a large tribal casino outside of Tampa. It does have a card club that contributes some revenue to purses.

In response to questions about whether racetracks in Florida could survive without gaming revenue, Powell said they could but with a much different product. The gaming study noted the three Thoroughbred tracks combined are the healthiest of the pari-mutuel facilities in Florida.

"Gulfstream Park without slots would go from being 'A' brand to being a middle-of-the-road to low-level 'B' track," Powell said. "There are a number of markets (nationally) where there will be contraction in the industry, but Florida being the second largest jurisdiction for Thoroughbred breeding (should be an incentive to maintain a quality racing product)."

Powell also weighed in on a push by some Greyhound racetracks and an anti-dog racing group to "decouple" racing from gaming, meaning racing wouldn't be required to have a license for a card room or slots. He noted no Thoroughbred tracks have indicated a desire to do so, but a precedent could be damaging.

"We think decoupling is a terrible thing for the industry," Powell said. "That wasn't the agreement with racetracks when gaming came to be. There are lot more jobs behind a racehorse than a slot machine."

In another matter, members of the committee expressed concern that Florida may not be getting its fair share of revenue from wagers on Florida racing made out of the state or through advance deposit wagering companies. One lawmaker called for a "forensic audit" to determine whether there is leakage.