Gambling legislation that would allow most Florida racetracks to shut down pari-mutuels and keep slot machines was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The Florida Regulated Industries Committee passed SB7072, legislation brought about by Gov. Rick Scott's compact with the Seminole Tribe, which operates seven casinos in the state. Separate legislation approving the compact also passed out of the committee.
SB7072 does not permit decoupling at Gulfstream Park or Tampa Bay Downs, but would spell the end of racing at Calder, which is currently being leased by owner Churchill Downs Inc. to the owners of Gulfstream Park, which have renamed the track Gulfstream Park West for the purposes of an October-November live meeting conducted to fulfill the existing requirement that a track run a specific number of dates to keep their slots/casino license.
The bill also creates purse subsidies and breeder incentive awards for Thoroughbred racing of up to $45 million annually – $20 million derived from the Seminole Tribe and $25 million from the pari-mutuels that decide to eliminate their live programs. A reduction in slot machine taxes from 35 percent of net revenue to 25 percent would facilitate those purse payments from the decoupled operations.
The legislation could nullify the Seminole compact if a measure permitting six counties to add slot machines to pari-mutuel facilities remains as part of SB7072. The Seminole compact permits SB7072's addition of two new slots parlors – one each in Miami/Dade and Palm Beach Counties – but insists on exclusivity in the remainder of the state. Failure to honor that exclusivity could jeopardize the compact's $3 billion to the state over the next seven years.
Under the Seminole compact, Tampa Bay Downs is not permitted slots. It is not among the six counties approved for slots by SB7072.
“This work in progress now moves on to the next committee stop where we will continue to build upon the purse/awards pool and the continued non-decoupling of our two live tracks – Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs,” said Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. “It took much heavy lifting to get this far and we still have much work to do as we navigate throough this supercharged gaming environment fueled by the Tribal Compact discussion.
“Of significant importance to us were the numerous comments by chair Bradley and president-designate Negron on the economic and agricultural importance of the Florida Thoroughbred breeding industry and the need to protect and nurture it,” said Powell.
A statement from the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (8,400 licensed Thoroughbred owners and trainers) said the FHBPA, Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association (around 1,000 members) and the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (about 500 members) strongly oppose ANY form of decoupling whatsoever.
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