Decoupling Surfaces in Florida Legislature

Bills would impact live racing requirements opposed by horsemen.

In the wake of multiple bills introduced in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives, horsemen have reiterated their opposition to any measure that would permit pari-mutuel facilities to end live racing but maintain gaming operations.

"Decoupling," as it is called, has been pushed by Greyhound racetracks in Florida but hasn't been vocally opposed by tracks that race various breeds of horses. The group United Florida Horsemen was formed last year to oppose any effort to remove live-racing mandates in legislation.

The group Feb. 5 said there is "confusion" over total decoupling, partial decoupling, or decoupling for only dog racing. Therefore, it reiterated "total opposition to any and all decoupling."

"Horsemen view partial decoupling as simply a steppingstone that would shoehorn a full-fledged statewide expansion of gambling at the expense of thousands of small businesses and their employees who make up Florida's horse racing market," the group said in a statement.  "The partial decoupling plan now exposed with the filing of (legislation) would seek to create an artificial 'set aside' market and eliminate Florida's ability to compete for horseracing business with other states by setting up contrived purse pools and restricting racing days to completely wipe out any semblance of free enterprise in the sport as it currently exists."

United Florida Horsemen argues that racing and breeding would be greatly damaged if the legislation is approved. The group said that in Marion County, where most of the Thoroughbred breeding farms are located, the annual economic impact is $2.62 billion, which includes about 20,000 jobs.

The decoupling isn't directly tied to a $3 billion compact Gov. Rick Scott has proposed with the Seminole tribe, which operates lucrative casinos in the state. It is, however, part of an overall gambling expansion plan.

United Florida Horsemen members are the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Florida Quarter Horse Breeders' and Owners' Association, Florida Standardbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, American Quarter Horse Association, United States Trotting Association, Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, and Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.