Gulfstream Park is one of several Florida tracks with slots

Gulfstream Park is one of several Florida tracks with slots

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Opposition to Florida Decoupling Plan Expands

National HBPA latest group to reach out to Florida lawmakers.

Horsemen's groups are rallying to head off a move to decouple live racing from casino-style gambling at pari-mutuel facilities in Florida.

The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association was the first to signal that decoupling—removing a requirement that tracks must offer live racing in order to keep their slot machines—would be part of a broader legislative discussion involving gaming and Florida's pact with the Seminole tribe, which has full casinos in the state. Greyhound tracks, and groups that oppose dog racing, have pushed for decoupling.

National HBPA president Eric Hamelback recently sent letters to Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida legislature to state the organization's opposition to decoupling. The National HBPA has about 30 affiliates in North America with total membership of 29,000.

"On behalf of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, this letter is to request you stand against any attempts to decouple slot machines from live horse racing," Hamelback's letter states. "We join with the Florida HBPA and its president, Bill White, in expressing our opposition to any decoupling legislation as such a move would have a devastating effect on the horse racing and breeding industry in Florida.

"The National HBPA is the largest organization in the United States representing owners and trainers of Thoroughbred racehorses. It is and has been the unequivocal position of the National HBPA that active steps should be taken in all states to ensure that live racing days expand or remain intact. If Florida were to permit the removal of the statutory mandate requiring live racing in order to have casino-style gambling, then it is more likely than not that stand-alone casinos would rapidly replace live horse racing tracks. Casinos would welcome the ability to conduct business without the additional expenses that support live horse racing.

"This would result in the loss of substantial economic benefits that Florida enjoys from tourism, small business creation with horse farms, jobs, taxes, and a vibrant horse breeding industry. We respectfully request that you continue to support a vibrant agricultural-based horse racing and horse breeding industry."

A group called United Horsemen has created the website NoDecoupling.com to make its case. Along with the Florida HBPA and National HBPA, members are the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Florida Quarter Horse Breeders' and Owners' Association, Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, American Quarter Horse Association, and the United States Trotting Association.

Florida offers Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park and harness racing at Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park. Both facilities have slots, as do Gulfstream Park, Calder Casino & Race Course, and a few Greyhound tracks.