In the last round of state elections in Florida, millions of Floridians voted to expand the availability of slot machines at parimuteul facilities. Though the state legislature is currently evaluating the role of gambling in Florida, previous legislation expanding casinos in Dade and Broward county has led to an increase in Las Vegas style casinos and casino resorts sprouting up next to once flourishing, and now languishing horse tracks.
One of the largest of these casinos is the Isle of Capri Casino and Harness Track in Pompano Beach, FL. A recent visit to the property revealed that although the inside of the casino is very nice, the outside of the building looks as though it needs some more TLC. The racetrack, which not too long ago was the heart of the operation, seems to have suffered, as parts of the fence are falling down, the timing and scoring towers look shabby, and the suites facing the track look even worse from the parking lot side.
“Just last week, it was reported that Pompano Park, which holds several pari-mutuel permits, is planning to expand its casino into neighboring areas and also put up a hotel,” stated Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA). “Given Pompano Park’s past relationships to other operators that have misused pari-mutuel permits in Florida recently by hosting phony horse racing events as a shortcut to slot machines, Florida’s horsemen of all breeds are definitely watching their plans with great concern.”
The outlawing of Internet Cafes throughout the state have definately caused increased business at this and other gambling houses. The money keeps rolling in, and it seems as though some of these casino/resort operators are grasping at straws to show that they are running a legitimate parimuteul in order to expand their slot machine revenue.
In a strongly-worded news release issued on June 24, 2013, “No Casinos,” a prominent anti-gambling advocacy group, noted that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has essentially “thumbed its nose” at the judge who recently ruled that pari-mutuel wagering on phony horse racing cannot be sanctioned or conducted under current law.
“Shockingly, the State of Florida has responded to the court’s ruling on illegal activities—not by protecting thousands of jobs created by our multi-billion dollar international horse racing and breeding industry, but by granting a license to an offender to hold more of these phony events,” Stirling added.
Just days after the court sternly ruled that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” and similarly contrived events run afoul of Florida law, the Division issued yet another such license to Gretna Racing, LLC, after its representatives—the very same attorneys who intervened in the administrative case attempting to defend the Division’s unlawful actions —had sent threatening letters to Florida regulators objecting to enforcement of the judge’s ruling. Within hours, Florida’s regulators caved.
“The Division is siding with those who want to cleverly skirt the laws – rather than enforcing the full letter and spirit of those laws,” said No Casinos President John Sowinski. “It is time for Secretary Lawson to step in and cancel these licenses before this leads to another un-checked proliferation of gambling like we saw for too long with Internet Cafés.”
Initially, it seemed as though the State would honor the judge’s scathing 85-page rebuke of Gretna’s activities by allowing only legitimate quarter horse racing. But now, the State appears committed to giving Gretna yet another free pass.
“What’s worse,” Sowinski continued, “it’s clear that operators at Gretna don’t care if anybody even watches the races. They just want them to take place in order to try to meet the technical requirements of hosting more lucrative forms of gambling, including simulcast, cardrooms, and they hope one day, slot machines.
Normally, the market introduction of any new gambling product would be enabled with the passage of legislation, followed by subsequent regulatory hearings in which public input would be provided and considered. With “pari-mutuel barrel racing” and its offspring, such as the bootleg racing Gretna conducted this past weekend with the State’s full blessing, none of that process has occurred.
“Florida’s $2.2 billion dollar horse racing industry creates 104,000 documented annual Florida jobs,” explained representatives from the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, which prevailed in the case. “Governor Scott has committed to getting Floridians back to work by promoting Florida business the cornerstone of his administration. Now, we need him to hold true to that vision by putting a stop to this outrageous sidestep of Florida law that doing just the opposite by putting our Florida horsemen and breeders out of work.”
As part of the phony racing scheme, regulators have allowed the offending permitholders to eliminate independent horsemen, who, under normal circumstances would address the dilapidated conditions with facility owners.
“Casino operators seem to be especially eager to jettison live horse racing, which is a far greater economic driver than any slot machine could ever be, because of all the jobs it creates, both on the track and in Florida’s internationally known breeding industry,” continued Stirling. “By letting the tracks deteriorate, they can more easily mischaracterize horse racing as an encumbrance, rather than the incredible economic driver and community asset that it is. We believe their goal is to convince legislators that it is no longer profitable, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true when the business is properly managed–as you have seen firsthand.”
The fact is, Florida voters agreed to allow slots into the state to support Florida’s $2.2 billion dollar horse racing industry, not the other way around. Let’s hope that in the coming year, they are not blinded by the free drinks and shiny slots.
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