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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Florida Could “Decouple” Horse Racing, Breeding Right Out of Business

By Bill White, President, Florida Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association

Florida HBPA President Bill White
Governor Rick Scott has certainly been proactive when it comes to criss-crossing the globe in his efforts to relocate businesses and resulting jobs to Florida. But since millions of taxpayer dollars are spent annually to lure various corporations to the Sunshine State through agencies such as Enterprise Florida, it's hard to fathom why our elected officials are actually now entertaining the ill-advised notion of "decoupling" slot machines from horse racing--a lucrative industry that takes no public funds.

Indeed, Florida seems committed to doing anything and everything imaginable to compete with other states for business--except when it comes to horse racing.

Prior to 2005, the lure of other states' slot-fueled skyrocketing purses was quickly siphoning off Florida's leading stables, jockeys, owners, trainers and horses. Our balmy winter weather was no longer enough keep them--or wagering dollars they attracted--here during critical pre-Triple Crown training months. Those knowledgeable about horse racing's pari-mutuel economic cycle knew that something had to be done. So, with great resignation and plenty of trepidation, Florida's horse racing officials acquiesced to support slots, with the proviso that their proceeds would be used to lure good horses--inevitably generating business, jobs and economic prosperity.

When voters approved slot machines at sanctioned pari-mutuels to help us compete on the national horse racing scene--the mission was no different than that of Enterprise Florida's incentives.

It's been 10 years since the initial "deal" of Florida's slot referendum, the resulting revenues of which were earmarked to put Florida's horse racing industry on a level playing field with other states. By design, these funds spurred our breeding industry, creating jobs and increasing tax revenues in turn.

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.

For Florida, it's live horse racing, not stand-alone casinos, that creates million of dollars in yearly economic benefit through tourism, small businesses, jobs, taxes and a vibrant breeding industry the produces the same. Whether it's Thoroughbred racing in South Florida and Tampa, or Central Florida breeding and Ocala sales, racehorses in Florida are big business.

Recognizing this, Florida has traditionally gone to great lengths to provide additional economic and agriculture-based incentives to invest, buy, breed and sell racehorses here at home. Part of that includes ensuring that live racing days remain a mandatory part of the gambling equation with the economic incentive of revenue dollars from slots.

But to big casinos vying to rid themselves of Florida horse racing's tie to slot machines, live racing days are nothing but an inconvenient dent in their corporate bottom line. Hence the recent frenzy of private meetings and out-of-sight scurrying to cobble together a "decoupling" power grab insidiously disguised as "free enterprise."

Bandying cliches like "equal playing field" or "let the market decide," big casino executives are giddy, sensing imminent blood in a scheme they have carefully packaged to profit through Florida's inevitable loss when they finally convince legislators to decouple.

The bottom line: Our government should use gambling to create tax revenue and economic impact--not to pad the pockets of casino-only interests.

Over 10,000 Florida horse breeders, owners and trainers oppose "decoupling."

We urge Florida legislators to do the same.

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