It’s been one year since the State decided to punt on last years’ gaming compact. But 2017 is an entirely different story. The current State Legislature has gaming locked in its sights and is serious on passing legislation.
That means “decoupling” is back on the table. And the uncertainty surrounding decoupling is sure to be heightened this year.
As a reminder, Florida currently mandates that pari-mutuel facilities must hold live horse racing, dog racing or jai alai games to be licensed for card rooms and/or slot machines. In a decoupled scenario, pari-mutuel permit holders would no longer be required to hold those live events.
The Good News
On Thursday, February 23rd, the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee debated and approved House Bill, HB 7037, involving the Seminole Compact.
The bill ratifies and approves a 2017 Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida. In exchange, the Tribe will make revenue sharing payments totaling at least $3 billion to the State during the first seven years of the 2017 Compact.
One proposed amendment by Rep. Moskowitz, removed provisions against decoupling. He claimed no decoupling tied the hands of the next 10 speakers. However, after opposition by most representatives, Moskowitz withdrew his amendment, but declared he intends to bring it again.
As part of the public testimony, Florida HBPA President Bill White spoke in support of HB 7037. White started by introducing the FHBPA, “We are the organization that represents in South Florida, the racing aspect of Thoroughbred Racing. We are the owners and trainers, we’re the guys that put on the show.”
In speaking to HB 7037, White affirmed, “We support this bill. Very much so. We support it because it means no decoupling for anyone. Our position has been and has been very consistent over the last 3 years. If you decouple some, we fear we will be the next in line.”
After demonstrating the robust growth of the current business model, he urged the Legislature, “We haven’t even reached our best yet. The best is still to come. So, we’re not asking you for anything. We’re simply asking for you to protect what we have in place – something very successful.”
Others who spoke in public testimony in favor of the bill were, Tom Ventura, President of the Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company, Lonnie Powell from Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, John Sowinski from No Casinos Inc., David Hart from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Jack Corey from the Florida Greyhound Association.
The Not So Good News
The Senate has proposed SB 8. Basically, the bill ratifies and approves a specified compact executed by the Governor and Seminole Tribe of Florida contingent upon the adoption of a specified amendment to the compact. The bill also creates the Fantasy Contest Amusement Act and creates the Office of Amusements within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Included in this bill is decoupling.
Where the House Bill HB 7037 imposes strict limits on gambling expansion, Senate Bill SB 8 basically opens the flood gates for counties all over the state to apply for and run stand-alone casinos.
The Florida HBPA feels SB 8 will dramatically, and irreparably, change the gaming footprint in the state of Florida for the worse.
On a positive note, in the debate on SB 8 Senator Aaron Bean asserted, “I just don’t think we need to go in this direction (expanded gaming) as a State. I know it’s complicated. I know it’s in our Constitution. I know how everything intertwines with everything else. And, that we use a lot of the money for education. However, I see it as a continued road of a slippery slope. We never seem to get back on it and it always goes further toward full gaming.” He concluded, “I’m voting against it. I know there’s going to be a better product down the road, but today I’m a no with the hopes the product will get better. And with Senator Galvano running it, I’m sure it will.”
Next, staunch anti-gaming Senator Anitere Flores added, “I’ve struggled with this bill. However, inaction is not an option. We’ve seen the results of this Legislature not acting. It leads to local governments continuing to have referendums.” She added, “If we do nothing, then we may leave it up to the courts, be it at the State or Federal level to decide what gaming should look like in our State. I’m voting yes but am hopeful this bill will get better.”
The SB 8 was passed in a unanimous 16-0 vote.
Where Things Stand Today
There are many complexities within both bills, and the most likely result will be a negotiated hybrid of both.
As the March deadline approaches a bitter battle over decoupling could be looming. The FHBPA is committed to do everything in its power to oppose any attempts at decoupling.
Our Legislative Committee Chairman Chester Bishop has proved to be part of a very effective tag team along with Executive Director Glen Berman and President Bill White. Mr. Bishop has made it clear that the decoupling steam roller has started early this year and the FHBPA no-decoupling efforts have intensified and ramped up very early. Senators and Representatives are being met with not only in Tallahassee but at the local level.
We also ask that horsemen stay informed and up-to-date and stand with us in opposing decoupling. We will be posting more information on this website and social media as it becomes available.
To watch the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee meeting in its entirety, please visit:
To watch the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting in its entirety, please visit:
Article by John Chiappetta