First Case of De Facto Decoupling Granted in Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts of those in the dog racing industry to separate the need to continue to allow races as a requisite for allowing slot machines at their facilities. Florida law stated that slot machines were only allowed in certain counties and racing facilities. The dog and horse racing industries in Florida have been struggling. Few bet on the races, the greyhound industry has come under increased scrutiny for mistreatment or drugging of their animals and its been clear that slot machines are the only real think keeping the doors open. Those involved have been attempting to remove the racing requirement so they can simply offer slot machines instead of closing the tracks down. It now appears that one venue has succeeded at getting permission to decouple. The Miami Herald explains: 

Florida gambling regulators this week gave a Miami dog track permission to ditch greyhound races but keep more lucrative slot machines and card games, in a first-of-its-kind ruling.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Wednesday granted a request from West Flagler Associates, which operates Magic City Casino in Miami, to replace dog races with jai-alai matches, as part of a drawn-out legal dispute over a controversial “summer jai-alai” permit.

It’s the first time a pari-mutuel facility has been allowed to drop dog or horse races and continue operating slots. 

This isn’t the result of new legislation or action taken by gambling administrators, as much as it is an application of an old 1980 law. But it does signal that legislators are willing to consider more wide spread decoupling legislation in future. The Miami Herald continues:

The Magic City decision is rooted in a 1980 Florida law that allows pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that have the lowest betting handle for two consecutive years to convert to summer jai-alai permits. But if those pari-mutuels do not seek conversion, other facilities can seek the permits. The Miami dog track’s lawyer, John Lockwood, first sought the summer jai-alai permit for Magic City in 2011.

After much legal wrangling, the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering denied the track’s request to do away with dog races, launch jai-alai games and keep lucrative slots that the track began operating after voters signed off on the machines in 2004. But the 3rd District Court of Appeal ordered gambling regulators to reconsider the issue.

In a declaratory statement issued Wednesday, state regulators said Florida law gives the track the green light to do away with dog races, as long as the jai-alai matches take place at the same facility where the current greyhound permit is operated.

 The agency’s decision won’t have broad implications but comes as lawmakers consider a push by gambling operators who want to do away with live dog and horse racing while holding onto slots or card rooms.

“It’s pretty clear that the department intends for this to not have any far-reaching effects, but once again, John Lockwood has masterfully used a unique set of circumstances to create a positive outcome for his client,” Scott Ross, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation who is now a lobbyist representing other gambling operators, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Hopefully this was just legal maneuvering and the skill of a lobbyist with connections, but its best to make your opinion known to local representatives.

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