There was great fanfare when the first slot machines arrived at Gulfstream in 2006

There was great fanfare when the first slot machines arrived at Gulfstream in 2006

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Coming to a State Near You?

'Decoupling' of racing, gaming heating up

Originally published in the Sept. 24 edition of Blood-Horse Daily. To download the Blood-Horse Daily smartphone app or to receive the edition in your inbox each evening, visit BloodHorse.com/Daily.

Efforts by casino operators and lawmakers to back away from the original intent of laws that linked approval for gaming to live pari-mutuel racing—some of the legislation has titles that expressly mention preservation of horse racing and breeding—are nothing new. In some states the pushback began only several years after the law took effect.

Tens of millions of dollars in purse revenue have been taken away and redirected in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In Iowa the state legislature approved a buyout of the Greyhound racing industry to end live racing.

In Florida, legislative "decoupling"—separating gaming from racing by removing a statutory mandate that certain facilities must offer live racing to have casino-style gambling—has been a recurring issue with the Greyhound industry. Horse racing interests have warily watched the developments and have warned it's only a matter of time before the effort spreads beyond dog racing.

Well, it seems it has, at least according to Florida horsemen. It's expected that a special legislative session on tribal gaming compacts in Florida later this year will include discussion on decoupling for all forms of pari-mutuel wagering. Boots on the ground have informed the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association it could be in the mix.

"It's coming from a coalition of racetracks," Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling said. "The horsemen have not been involved. They're going to try to change the statute, and yes, the horsemen plan to fight it."

Slot machines at Gulfstream Park have produced enough revenue to solidify its year-round racing program. Combined, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, which has a card club but no slots, provide perhaps the most desirable winter racing product, and the amount of money wagered on live racing each day supports that contention.

Florida HBPA president Bill White noted the state's regular efforts at attracting businesses and investment to the state and wonders why government would want to reverse the economic growth horse racing and breeding have created since slots were approved about 10 years ago.

"So just imagine our lawmakers' embarrassment once they realize-perhaps all too late-that by approving decoupling, they will have both inadvertently expanded gambling almost overnight, as well as chased our horsemen right into the welcoming barns of more racing-friendly states," White said.

It's just another reason for horse racing to overhaul the pari-mutuel business model. One never knows when the gaming revenue will become a thing of the past.