Florida Horsemen Take Message to State Senate

About 100 horsemen and horsewomen attended pari-mutuel and gaming workshop.

About 100 representatives of the southeast Florida horse industry took their "Horse Racing Keeps Florida Running!" message to an Oct, 23 Florida Senate Gaming Committee public workshop on possible changes in the state's pari-mutuels and gaming laws.

Attired in shirts bearing that slogan, members of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association had a visible presence at the workshop at Broward College in Coconut Creek, Fla.

Lending support to the cause was Dale Romans, the 2012 Eclipse Award-winning trainer, who flew from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale and back on the same day. He used an allotted two minutes to remind the Senate committee about the impact a Thoroughbred stable such as his can have on the state's economy.

He said he will bring 150 horses to southeast Florida in November and will have a monthly payroll of about $60,000.

"The spending and economic impact will be here," said Romans, who said he will have those horses at Gulfstream Park through late March.

Florida breeder Carlo Vaccarezza, whose multiple grade I winner Little Mike is a Romans trainee, joined the trainer on the day's cross-country flight.

To underline the importance of getting its message out, in its advance publicity also sent to committee staff, the Florida HBPA emphasized that Romans and Vaccarezza were willing to take a day away from Breeders' Cup World Championships preparations at Santa Anita Park to speak at the workshop. Little Mike, owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, Carlo's wife, is seeking to defend his title in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).

In addition to Romans' presentation, he and Carlo Vaccarezza met several senators prior to the workshop.

 About 15 representatives of the Florida Thoroughbred industry were among the 90 speakers at the workshop that had total attendance of about 700.

Explaining their respective involvement in the industry, horse industry speakers cited numbers on the long-standing impact Florida's Thoroughbred racing and breeding have had on the state's economy.

Several noted that Florida's horse racing industry estimates that it has 104,000 employees with annual economic impact of $2.2 billionprimarily from breeding and racing of Thoroughbreds.

The committee is seeking information for use in preparing bills the Florida legislature will consider during its 2014 general session that is scheduled from March 4 through May 2.

Officials of the Florida HBPA asked that Thoroughbred tracks not be put at a tax or gaming product disadvantage if there is any expansion of gaming in Florida.

Speakers from other gaming sectors expressed similar concerns about the legislature possibly authorizing new "destination resort" casino hotels in in the state.

Trainers Kathleen O'Connell, Bill Kaplan, Leo Azpurua, Barry Rose, and Jose Garoffalo were among the Florida HBPA contingent.

Among the other speakers were jockey Juan Leyva, who pointed out to senators that his job is an example of how one racing job leads to othersin this case agents and valets; Phil Combest, a trainer and owner who is FHBPA president; Kent Stirling, FHBPA executive director; and Austin Miller, president of Calder Casino & Race Course.

They were joined by a veterinarian and the owner of a tack supply company, two other examples of Thoroughbred-related jobs.

In an interview outside the meeting room, Stirling talked about two pending 2014 legislative issues that concern the FHBPA and others in the state's Thoroughbred industry.

Destination resorts: The legislature this year considered but did not pass a bill that would have authorized as many as four "destination resort" hotel/casino properties in Florida.

That issue will be in the center of 2014's gaming debate. The proposed resorts would be the first casinos in Florida with roulette and craps tables.

They also would have Las Vegas-style slot machinesthe same as at the seven pari-mutuel casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

One destination resort likely would be at a downtown Miami property owned by Genting Group of Malaysia. Gulfstream Park has expressed an interest in having a destination resort on its property in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Calder, Gulfstream and Hialeah Park (now with Quarter Horse racing) are among the seven locations that pay a state tax rate of 35% on slots revenues and local taxes.

The proposals for destination resort tax rates have been as low as 15%.

"We would need the same tax rate as the resorts," Stirling said. "Otherwise, they would cannibalize our tracks' slots."

Decoupling at Greyhound tracks:

Florida's Greyhound tracks are again expected to push for a law change that would allow them to stop that racing while keeping their simulcasting (including Thoroughbreds) and poker rooms.

Under bills that did not pass this year, Greyhound tracks Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla., and Magic City Casino in Miami would keep their casinos with Las Vegas-style slot machines.

"The dogs have been living off simulcasting for years, with Thoroughbreds subsidizing them," Stirling said.

If decoupling is approved, Stirling said the Florida HBPA would seek a reduction of the revenue Greyhound tracks receive on their simulcast wagering.

Under state law, they receive at least one-third of the takeout on Thoroughbred bets at their tracks.

The Thoroughbred track gets the remainder, with half of it designated for race purses.

"If there is decoupling, the dogs' split should be much lower, and we feel it should not be higher than 25%," Stirling said.

The Senate Gaming Committee also has public workshops scheduled Oct. 30 in Lakeland, Nov. 14 in Pensacola, and Nov. 15 in Jacksonville. (Information may be found on the committee's website).

The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association plans to have board members and other members speak at one or more of those workshops.