Florida Horsemen Hopeful on Slots Referendum

Horsemen in South Florida remain hopeful voters statewide will approve a ballot measure Nov. 2 that will allow a referendum on racetrack slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade counties sometime next year.

"The numbers look pretty good," Linda Mills, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Oct. 30. "So many people are voting early in Florida. The initiative is going well, though there has been some opposition. The majority of it seems to be coming from Indian tribes."

Casino gambling in Florida is available at Indian casinos and on offshore boats. The racing industry has been fighting for the right to expanded gambling in an effort to remain competitive.

The Thoroughbred tracks that would be affected should the measures pass and enabling legislation be approved are Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park. Other tracks that would have slots are Pompano Park, a harness track; the Flagler and Hollywood Greyhound tracks; and the Dania and Miami jai alai frontons.

"This is a very important issue to us," Mills said. "The horsemen pledged $1 million to the campaign to be paid back through purses in the next three years. The fact Magna Entertainment Corp., Churchill Downs Inc., the horsemen, and the breeders are all in agreement on this makes it very exciting."

MEC owns Gulfstream, while CDI owns Calder.

The state's cut of revenue from slots would go toward education throughout the state on a percentage basis. Racing's share of the revenue would stay in the two counties in which slots are located. The revenue splits for racetracks, purses, and breed development won't be decided until the enabling legislation is developed.

Mills said should slots become a reality after the two votes, the HBPA would work to protect the horsemen's interests in regard to purses. "The bottom line," she said, "is protecting live racing."

Calder is open for live racing through Jan. 2, 2005. Gulfstream, which will utilize temporary facilities for its 2005 meet, opens Jan. 3 for what one track official called a "soft opening." The track will be dark for two days, then continue racing Jan. 6.