State Audit Recommends VLTs in Florida

by Associated Press

Florida's pari-mutuel industry is unable to pay for the cost of regulation and other required obligations after years of declining attendance and tumbling receipts, a state audit said Monday.

The 10-page report also included recommendations aimed at keeping the industry viable in the state.

Although the Legislature has tried to shore up the industry in recent years by making it easier to bet, the state has been forced to dip into its general-revenue fund to account for shortages, since the pari-mutuel wagering trust fund is unable to sustain an annual $29.9 million distribution to counties required by law.

The audit by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability said attendance had dropped at horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons by 80% since 1990. Several facilities have closed in that time.

The amount of taxes, fees and fines paid by permit holders has dropped from $110.5 million in 1990-91 to $34.9 million in fiscal year 2002-03.

The audit recommendations were directed to the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Despite the industry's troubles, the oversight agency was commended for effectively carrying out its regulatory mission.

Expansion suggested

Among recommendations in its audit, OPPAGA suggested expanded gaming in existing facilities such as by adding video lottery; reducing part-time employees at existing facilities; eliminating the distribution to counties; and relaxing regulation of Salix.

However, DBPR Secretary Diane Carr noted in her response that any compromise in the division's regulatory effectiveness could threaten the integrity of the pari-mutuel races and games - which generates about $35 million a year in taxes and fees.

Carr, however, agreed with the recommendation to reduce the regulation on Salix, a diuretic.

The 2003 Legislature passed a measure allowing bigger stakes in poker games allowed at dog tracks and jai alai frontons.

But it didn't approve video lottery terminals, which OPPAGA noted could increase tax collections in Florida by between $600 million and $2 billion annually. Seven states - Delaware, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia - allow video-gaming devices at pari-mutuel facilities.

Some Florida counties are still looking at jai alai and off-track betting to boost their local economies.

Just last week, the Jefferson County Commission approved a resolution to allow a poker card room at the Monticello greyhound racing track.

Earlier this month, voters in north-central Florida's Hamilton County approved a jai alai and off-track betting venue that eventually could include a horse track along the Georgia border.