VLT Legislation Proceeding in Florida

The sponsor of legislation that would authorize video lottery terminals at Florida's pari-mutuel facilities said budget concerns in the state give it some chance to pass. Meanwhile, two VLT bills in the Senate cleared committee March 6 and could be combined.

"I still believe we have a reasonable shot of passage," said Rep. Steve Geller, who claims VLTs would pump $1 billion annually into Florida's public education system. "Right now I think (Gov. Jeb Bush) would veto it, but if the session was extended because we deadlocked on a budget, it would be a completely different question."

Both Bush and state attorney general Bob Butterworth have announced opposition to expanded gambling.

On March 6, Frank Stronach, chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., told the state legislature that VLTs are a short-term solution to racing's problems. He called for complete deregulation of the industry.

"We just don't think VLTs are the end-all answer to the fundamental ills we've got," said Doug Donn, chairman of Magna's Gulfstream Park.

Donn said if VLTs were permitted without further deregulation, Greyhound tracks and jai alai frontons--both of which are permitted to operate at night and accept simulcast wagers in the absence of live racing--would enjoy significant competitive advantages.

A racetrack official said a revised bill calls for the state to get 40.25% of any gaming revenue, while 8% from the net win would go to a statewide pool for purses. Revenue for each facility would depend on how much each one paid in purses the previous year. (Thoroughbred tracks would get about 58% of the common pool.)

Of the remaining 51.75% in revenue, 4% would be earmarked for owner and breeder awards, and the rest would be equally split between racetracks and horsemen. That would give racing associations less than 24% of net revenue, less than half the splits in other states with alternative gaming.

Racetrack officials in Florida said 24% isn't enough to cover the costs of infrastructure and operation. Similar arguments have been made in other states, including Kentucky, where legislation calls for the tracks to get about 50% of revenue.

A study done by the Innovation Group said the market potential for VLTs in Florida is $3.8 billion by the third year of operation. If that's the case, daily average purses at Calder Race Course could go from $200,000 to $600,000.