Category Archives: Horse Racing

Proposed Florida Legislation Seeks to Expand Gambling Through Various Decoupling Efforts

Casino Watch Focus has reported on various efforts to expand gambling in Florida through a process known as decoupling.  Currently most gambling in Florida is either through tribal casinos or allowed at facilities that complement live horse and dog racing.  Decoupling occurs when those two items no longer need be paired in order for the gambling to be legalized.  A facility could get a gambling permit for slot machines, but not need to have the dog or horse racing.  Florida voters passed an Amendment that made live greyhound racing illegal.  Those facilities have other gambling on-site and the issue of whether they can be decoupled has been contemplated.  A new set of bills have been introduced that seeks to decouple the greyhound industry but also expand gambling through decoupling other gambling activities as well.  Florida Politics explains:

The House Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would decouple casino gambling permits not just from dog racing tracks that are out of business but from jai alai frontons and harness racing tracks as well.

PCB 21-05, introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, is one of three gaming-related proposed committee bills introduced Wednesday in the Commerce Committee. Chair Rep. *Blaise Ingoglia* advised they were being floated only as just-in-case measures, should the Legislature take up gambling in this Session. Another bill, PCB 21-03, would create a Florida Gaming Control Commission and give it broad oversight and enforcement authority over Florida gaming. A third bill, PCB 21-04, would exempt some of the commission’s records from public records. 

Those two bills flew through the Commerce Committee with little discussion and no opposition. PCB 21-05 drew heated debate. It deals with the aftermath of Florida voter approval of a greyhound racing ban in 2018. Those dog tracks are closed or closing, but some still have game rooms. But Florida law says those game rooms must be coupled with pari-mutuel operations, and the racing is gone. The bill would decouple greyhound track companies’ casinos from the race tracks. Yet the bill extends the same decoupling to jai alai frontons, which nearly are gone in Florida, and to harness racing tracks, which supports the quarter horse community.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Sports Betting and Other Major Provisions in the Florida Gambling Compact with the Seminole Tribe Could Prevent Deal

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to renegotiated the expired portion of the Seminole Gambling Compact. Several attempts have been made over the past few legislative sessions, but nothing has been established and they have been acting in good faith since.  As this year’s session approaches its end, the efforts to finalize a new compact have strengthened. As previously explainedit was suggested that sports gambling could be legalized in Florida without needing to involve a vote of the people. Tribal gambling is not regulated in the same way, so if they were to offer it, its believed that it could be a way to work around the need for voter approval. Florida Politics online explains:

Simpson acknowledged last week that the concept of allowing the tribe to run sports books at the state’s dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons was intended to sidestep a constitutional amendment that passed in November requiring statewide votes on citizens’ initiatives that would expand casino-type gambling.

But [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, indicated the constitutional amendment adds another layer of analysis to an already-complicated legal deal that also encompasses serious policy-making decisions.

“Obviously, me and my staff we’re going through it, looking substantively (at) what it means, but also legally. As you know, there’s a lot of legalities that are involved in this. There is just a (constitutional) amendment that passed. You know, the question, does it apply to the tribe? Does it apply to this or that? So there’s a whole host of things I think that need to be vetted through, but prior to yesterday I had not seen the outline. We have it now and are going through it,” DeSantis said.

This sports betting provision in general, however, is being set up in a way that Florida Gov Ron DeSantis believes could cause problems. Florida Politics continues:

With time already an enemy, Gov. Ron DeSantis injected more uncertainty Tuesday into a gambling deal reached by a Senate Republican leader and a representative of the Seminole Tribe, suggesting its passage would be too heavy a “legislative lift.”

The governor said he and his staff have begun scrutinizing “a draft outline” of the agreement, which would open the door for sports betting in Florida, with the tribe acting as a “hub” for sports betting at the state’s pari-mutuels.

But the Republican governor appeared skeptical of some sports-betting provisions in the deal, which reportedly also would permit in-play betting at professional sports arenas.

The manner in which sports betting is set up “could really affect the integrity of the games,” said DeSantis, who, as an undergraduate played baseball for Yale University.

“If I can place a wager on whether the first pitch of a game is going to be a strike or not, well, hell, that’s a big moral hazard, because that’s not necessarily something that would affect the total outcome,” he added.

Clearly sports betting has its own set of issues, but that’s not the only sticking point for a successful compact. Designated player games also need addressed given the temporary agreement expires after May of this year. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

But some issues opposed by pari-mutuels could imperil the deal’s success in the House, several lobbyists said.

Controversial “designated player” games offered at many of the state’s pari-mutuel cardrooms are a key element of the deal. The Seminoles — and a federal judge — have maintained that the card games violate a 2010 gambling agreement with the state that gave the tribe “exclusivity” over offering banked card games, such as blackjack.

Amid the dispute about designated player games, former Gov. Rick Scott entered an agreement with the tribe in which the Seminoles have continued to pay about $350 million a year to the state, which pledged to “aggressively enforce” how the games are played. But that agreement expires on May 31, and the House and Senate have not included the revenue in next year’s budget.

The deal under discussion would severely alter the way the card games are being played, making them virtually unprofitable for pari-mutuel cardrooms, sources said.

House Speaker José Oliva told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday afternoon that he had seen a “brief outline” of the gambling proposal.

The issues don’t stop there either. There are discussions to decouple horse racing in the same way dog racing was decoupled by the voters last election as well as other intertwined gambling issues. At the end of the day, Gov. DeSantis thinks it could simply be too many issues with too many parties to come to an agreement in time. The Tamp Bay Times continues:

To appease the pari-mutuels about the changes to the designed player games, the proposed agreement would also allow horse tracks to do away with horse races, while keeping lucrative activities like cardrooms and slot machines, which are legal at tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It is unclear whether such “decoupling” would also apply to jai alai frontons. Dog tracks are already allowed to drop greyhound races, thanks to a voter-approved constitutional amendment passed in November.

The pari-mutuels would also be able to operate sports books, with a cut going to the tribe, but the profits from sports betting wouldn’t offset the losses from the changes in the designated player games, according to industry experts.

Under the agreement, the Seminoles would be able to add craps and roulette to other gambling activities currently underway at the tribe’s casinos. The tribe would agree to pay about $400 million a year to the state, an amount that could gradually increase to about $500 million a year. That’s a boost from the current revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe, but far less than what legislative leaders had originally envisioned.

The decisions by the House and Senate to not include the tribe’s annual payments in their budget proposals takes some pressure off negotiators as lawmakers work to hammer out a final budget in the coming days.

Senate President Bill Galvano on Tuesday afternoon told the News Service that Simpson was continuing to work on the gambling deal, which the president said was still in play.

But with just a week-and-a-half left before the legislative session is slated to end, DeSantis hinted that passage of a compact would be extremely difficult. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Florida Decoupling Decision Draws Challenge

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to decouple dog racing from gambling venues, thus allowing them to operate stand alone slot machine gambling parlors. True decoupling efforts have been prevented, but the first approved case of de facto decoupling just happened in Florida. An old 1980 law was instrumental in the Magic City case and lead to the recent decoupling that will allow the facility to supplement actual races with jai alai matches. That ruling, however, is now being challenged, but its unclear if the challenge will be heard. The Miami CBS affiliate reports: 

Hartman and Tyner, Inc., and H&T Gaming, Inc., which run the Broward pari-mutuel, have filed a motion requesting that the Department of Businessand Professional Regulation vacate or reconsider the decision last month related to Magic City Casino in Miami.

The decision by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering would allow Magic City, operated by WestFlagler Associates, to replace dog races with jai alai matches and continue offering lucrative slots. The approval dealt with a long-controversial issue known as a “summer jai alai” permit.

In their motion, attorneys for the Broward pari-mutuel’s operators said, in part, that their effort to intervene in the issue was improperly dismissed by the department. Also, they pointed to a 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and contend that Magic City is only allowed to offer slots in conjunction with a greyhound-racing permit — not a summer jai alai permit.

“As an existing greyhound permit holder and slot machine gaming operator, intervenors (Hartman and Tyner and H&T Gaming) have a right to be heard as to how the constitutional and statutory provisions are being interpreted as it relates to allowing new permits to be used for expanding slot machine operations,” the motion said. “Intervenors assert that slot machine gaming at West Flagler’s facility pursuant to its summer jai alai permit should not be authorized and would be illegal.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


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.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Judge Slaps Horse Racing Group with Show Cause Order

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the continuing struggle of Florida’s Greyhound horse racing industry.  Horse racing has been on its last leg for some time, seemingly staying afloat not by the revenue generated by the races themselves, but due to the slot machine revenue those have collected at their facilities. The recent focus of a ballot initiative petition was the treatment of horses in the industry and others are convinced the industry would collapse if not for the additionally allowed gambling at the races. Now industry in fighting can be added to the worries facing the industry as a Florida Judge has issues a show cause order.   The Saint Peters Blog explains:

A Marion County circuit judge is giving a statewide racehorse owners group 20 days to explain why it shouldn’t be ordered to consider changing the way it operates. The “order to show cause” was entered against The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association on Friday. It is based in Ocala, informally known as “Horse Capital of the World.”

Horse trainer *Adolfo Exposito* sued the association after it refused to put eight changes to its bylaws up for a vote at its membership meeting, set for this Thursday. The proposed changes are backed by what the Ocala StarBanner has called a “dissident group” of nearly 60 members. They involve, among other things, making the association pay out more “incentive awards and payments” to its members instead of keeping the money, and capping total employee compensation at $500,000 per year.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Major Slot Expansion Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issue in Florida over the right of any jurisdiction to vote on allowing slot machines verses the clear intent of Florida legislators to only allow slot machines at state approved locations.  The case involving gambling expansion in Gadsden County has reached the Florida Supreme Court and arguments were presented.  Creek Entertainment Gretna lawyer claim that any referendum passed by the people should be allowed to move forward as long as there is an eligible facility to run the slots.  The implications for the case are quite vast and would allow Greyhound Racing and other pari-mutuel type facilities to dramatically, and likely drastically expand gambling in the state, which is clearly not the intent of state regulators, and the clear conclusion reached by the lower court.  The Tampa Bay Times explains:

[Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state] said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna’s slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,” Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither. 

Marc Dunbar, lead lawyer for Gretna, pointed to a rule change made by the Legislature and claim that the change opens the door for any county to move forward with the proper facility.  Not only Williams refute the claim to the Court, but the Justices themselves raised serious questions about their position:

The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel facility when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots.

The Legislature changed the law in 2010 to allow counties to authorize slot machines, but Williams said that change applies only if the Legislature or the state Constitution authorized the expansion. It does not authorize counties to hold a referendum “for the legal effect of providing an exemption to a statewide ban,” he said.

Justices grilled Dunbar and Williams about what they saw as conflicting legislative intent. [Justice Barbara Pariente] asked Dunbar why lawmakers would authorize slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward but not specifically authorize them elsewhere. “To basically say to 65 other counties you just have to have a referendum and, if you’re a home rule [county], you’re fine,” she said. “This would have been a very, very significant expansion of slot machines… and there is nary a mention in the legislative record of this kind of change.”

Florida legislators responded to questions from the Tampa Bay Time about their perceived intent during the rule change and if massive gambling expansion was really the focus:

Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and supporter of Gretna Racing, said he voted for the change to allow counties the opportunity to bring slot machines to their pari-mutuels and “our intent was never to hamstring the counties and tell them what they could not do.”

But Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been at the core of the Legislature’s gambling negotiations for the past seven years, said Tuesday that when lawmakers adopted the change to the state gaming law in 2010, they did not intend to open the door to the expansion of slot machines as Gretna Racing and five other pari-mutuels around the state are claiming. “It was not the intent of the Legislature to open the door for counties to hold their own referendums to allow the expansion of slots,” he said in an interview with the /Times/Herald/.

He said the Legislature wanted to clarify the terms of the referendum language in the event lawmakers would ever approve of an expansion of gaming in the future. “We didn’t want the Hialeah expansion to muddy the waters,” he said. “Instead, we reiterated that if we approved legislatively expanded slots — or a legislatively constitutional amendment … we didn’t relinquish authority.”

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Battle Over ‘Flag Drop’ Horse Races Could Affect Florida Slot Expansion

Casino Watch Focus has not only reported on the ongoing Florida Slot expansion case in before their Supreme court, but also on other creative attempts at allowing slots through flag drop racing. The issue at hand is that slot machines in Florida can be allowed at certain horse & dog racing tracks and various pari-mutual facilities, but fairly specific rules exist as to what constitutes proper racing. Four years ago permits were allowed for quarter-barrel racing, but the court ruled it wasn’t proper racing. The State then allowed for “flag drop” races where the two horses effectively race against each other. Its been a fairly contentious issue that has clear gambling expansion implications in Florida. Sunshine State News explains: 

Gambling regulators and a tiny horse track in Hamilton County are at odds over whether a series of “flag drop” races two summers ago, which one former state official described as “a sham,” constituted legitimate horse races.

“Events that were called races at the time were held, however it’s the division’s position that the races were not races of speed, and therefore do not count as races,” Caitlin Mawn, assistant general counsel for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, argued Monday. The department includes the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

In about one-third of the races, “the horse didn’t run or just walked or the rider fell off,” Haskel testified. The flag drop “in no way, shape or form resembles a horse race,” Haskel said. “Nothing about Hamilton Downs is real in terms of race track standards,” he said.

The ruling from Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early, who starting hearing testimony Monday in what is expected to be a two-day hearing, could play a role in whether the track is eligible in the future to add lucrative slot machines.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Dangerous Decoupling Efforts fail to Advance as Seminole Gambling Compact Dies during this years Florida Legislative Session

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to renew the long standing Seminole Gambling Compact that offers various exclusive rights to the Seminole Indians in exchange for specific payments to the state. That compact expired and a new compact was negotiated between Florida Gov. Scott and the Seminole Tribe. Unfortunately, the compact was not a simple extension of the existing agreement, but instead represented massive gambling expansion. One of the biggest areas of expanded gambling represented in this legislation was a decoupling effort. Many reports have outlined the dangers of decoupling but the Compact and any new gambling expansion efforts added into that compact needs to be ratified by the Florida Legislature. Luckily for those working hard to protect Florida’s families from the dangers of expanded gambling, these expansion efforts will not pass in the current legislative session. An online source explains:

You won’t see craps or roulette in Florida casinos for at least another year after state lawmakers were unable to pass gaming legislation during the 2016 session, which ends on Friday.

[T]he legislature still had to sign off on the agreement, or at least pass alternative legislation for the Seminoles and Scott to consider. Instead, they allowed the deal between Scott and the tribe to die.

The original Seminole Compact represented a balance in allowing some gambling, while still limiting the overall impact to Florida families through exclusivity agreements. Had the compact been a simple extension, the compact might have been passed. However, too many special interests tried to use the compact as a way to expand gambling all over the state. Not only has this approach been showed to go against the will of voters in Florida, but its also the approach that prevented any sensible regulation from passing.   Florida Politics Online explains:

*Barry Richard*, who represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida,**blamed the apparent Tuesday morning collapse of the 2016 gambling bills on lawmakers bending over backward to appease the state’s dog and horse racing concerns [decoupling].

Meantime, legislators added language allowing, among many other things, slot machines in five new counties — Brevard, Gadsden, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington — and permitting a form of poker known as “designated player games” at all pari-mutuels, something state gambling regulators now say is illegal. Provisions like those turned the deal on its head, Richard said.

These gambling expansion issues may not be moving forward in this legislative session, but a special session can still be called and the compact could be debated again. Stay informed on the ongoing dangers of these gambling expansion issues and be vigilant in letting your elected representatives know that you stand with Florida families by limiting gambling expansion in the state.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp speaks out against new Decoupling Efforts

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts of the Florida dog racing industry to keep slot machines even though the dog racing industry is clearly failing. As it stands, Greyhound tracks can only offer some gambling games if they are engaged in actual dog racing. The industry knows that dog racing is not longer garnering the business to stay open, but if they close the doors on the dog racing, they are no longer allowed to run the more lucrative gambling side games. Clearly, if greyhound tracks cant profit from races any longer, they should close their doors and hand in their licenses. Unfortunately, track owners feel the need to run at a loss on the trackside, so they can make money from side gambling. Efforts have been made many times to remove the requirement to hold dog or horse racing in order to  keep the gambling games going, an act known as decoupling. Many sources have come forward to explain all the harmful effects from decoupling, and those efforts have succeeded at preventing it. However, the new Seminole Compact debate has opened the door to decoupling this legislative session. Allowing such decoupling will essentially create mini-casinos state wide, and it’s a level of gambling expansion that clearly goes against the will of the people. Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took an in depth look at the issue and excerpts are provided below. His complete article can be found HERE

When the current state constitution was approved in 1968 the only approved gambling involved pari-mutuels: dog tracks, horse tracks and jai alai. They had been in operation for decades and considered sporting events you could bet on.

Since the constitution was passed, the voters of Florida have rejected amendments to allow casino gambling three times: in 1978, 1986 and 1994.

When the constitution revision was approved by voters it was never contemplated that racetracks would be converted to casinos. However, that’s what the gambling proposal now moving in the Legislature would do.

The proposal ignores the will of the people of Florida – it ignores history – and it furthers the false argument that pari-mutuels should be able to compete with Seminole Tribe casinos.  Race tracks are not in competition with Seminole casinos any more than the Miami Dolphins or Tampa Bay Bucs are in competition with casinos.

They are very different forms of entertainment.

Track owners argue that they shouldn’t be forced to have dog and horse races at their tracks. Yet that’s precisely what they‘re licensed to do!

The pari-mutuel industry doesn’t operate in the free market: It’s a regulated industry. The tracks have been given the exclusive privilege to operate their tracks for decades. They have been given regional monopolies shielded from competition and have received millions of dollars in tax credits while making billions of dollars in profits.

If they don’t want to have races then they should turn in their licenses.

The Legislature now proposes letting tracks replace racing with slot machines: converting tracks to casinos. That would be the largest expansion of gambling in the history of Florida, all done without the approval of Florida residents through a statewide election.

It’s a clear violation of the Florida Constitution. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Mayors Come Out Against Gambling Expansion in New Campaign

Casino Watch Focus has reported the new push to expand gambling in Florida during this year’s legislative session is through decoupling, or allowing dog and horse race track owners to offer mini-casinos without any dog or horse racing. Major opposition exists and the newest group to come forward has done so with a new anti-gambling campaign. Click Orlando reports: 

Mayor Buddy Dyer has come out swinging against a set of bills that could see more casinos being built in Florida.

He and three other mayors appear in a new commercial, urging state lawmakers to reject the bills. The commercial was produced by the political action group called protecting Florida’s Future.

They’re against a bill that would relax rules on greyhound racing opening the door for other gaming on-site. “I think there is certainly enough gaming for anybody — if that’s what they want to do,” Dyer told Local 6. “But I think people come to Orlando because we’re a family friendly destination, and the expansion of gambling would not add to what we have here.”

The full story with part of the television advertisement can be seen HERE or below

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Guest Article: Decoupling is Harmful Gambling Expansion that is No Good for Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported that recent efforts to expand gambling in Florida through new mega-resort casinos has failed for another year. However, the major push this session is to decouple dog and race tracks so they can offer mini casinos instead. This effort is being pushed in the major gambling bill in the house and through an amendment to the bill that seeks to expand the existing gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. Given the large push, its important to truly understand what is at stake. The following words come from Jeff Kottkamp, who served as Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor, is the president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. and represents Florida Casino Watch:

 

April 8, 2014|By Jeff Kottkamp

Florida has always been a very conservative state when it comes to gambling. Voters in the state rejected casino gambling in 1978, 1986 and 1994. The state aggressively challenged the Seminole Tribe when they opened a high stakes bingo parlor in 1979. Even the state lottery was not approved until 1984.

Pursuant to Article X section 7 of the state Constitution — the expansion of gambling in Florida is prohibited. The only way to legally increase the reach of gambling is by constitutional amendment. Despite this constitutional roadblock — there is currently an effort underway at the state Capitol to push the largest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

Supporters of gambling expansion call their effort “decoupling.” They want to “decouple” greyhound racing and dog racetracks. Or, put another way, they want to operate as gambling facilities without having live greyhound races as is currently required by law. In reality, they want to create 14 mini-casinos in Florida — all without voter approval.

Those pushing decoupling use two arguments to support their position. First, they say that requiring dog tracks to have dog races violates free market principles. Let’s be clear — there is nothing free market about gambling. It is a highly regulated industry for a reason.

Today’s racetracks were “grandfathered” when the state’s current Constitution was passed in 1968. A handful of dog tracks have been given the exclusive privilege to operate their facilities, have received millions of dollars in tax breaks, and have made billions of dollars in profits all without competition. In exchange for this exclusive privilege the tracks agreed to operate under a certain set of rules — rules they now want to drastically change. Decoupling is not really about the free market — it’s about gambling permit portability. If racetracks are free to operate as gambling facilities without being required to have live races — the very purpose for their existence — in a very short period of time we would see a massive expansion of casino-style gambling in Florida as the racetracks cut deals with casino operators.

Next those supporting the expansion of gambling through “decoupling” argue that greyhound racing is losing money. Frankly, there is really no way for anyone to know exactly how much is currently being wagered on greyhound racing let alone how much tracks are making. That’s because as much of half of the wagers are being diverted from the counters of racetracks to a system of gambling called Advanced Deposit Wagering, or ADW. Not only does ADW distort the amount being wagered — it robs the taxpayers of Florida since no taxes are paid on bets made using ADW. At least one estimate indicates that Florida is losing as much as $100 million in tax revenue as a result of ADW. It raises the question — is ADW being used to distort the numbers so gambling expansion supporters can argue decoupling is needed because race tracks are losing money?

Those supporting the expansion of gambling through decoupling say Florida is already a gambling state — so what’s the harm in having more gambling? In reality, Florida is a family friendly state that happens to have some forms of gambling. We will have more than 100 million visitors again this year because we are a destination for family vacations, not because of gambling. Expanding gambling through decoupling would seriously jeopardize our family friendly atmosphere and in turn would cause great harm to our state’s economy. For that reason alone decoupling is a very bad idea.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Gambling Loopholes Lead to Expansion

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing attempts to expand gambling in Florida.  The Genting Group has been attempting to build mega resort casino’s and has managed to put together a gambling cruise ship as they wait to push the Vegas-style casino complexes through future legislative sessions.  Now it appears that more expansion is taking place through various loopholes in the law.  The Miami Herald explains:

Days after an administrative law judge ruled last month that the barrel races held at a fledgling North Florida racino were not a legitimate pari-mutuel sport, state regulators crafted a license to allow for “flag-drop” races, the first of its kind, to replace them.

In the last two years, the same regulators have allowed for slot machine operators to run electronic roulette and craps games in Miami-Dade and Broward, allowed a dormant jai alai permit to be used to expand the number of slot machines at Magic City Casino, and allowed Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Racetrack to run a one-time race in June so they could offer thoroughbred races via simulcast year-round.

These are just among a handful of decisions by state regulators that have effectively expanded the gambling footprint in Florida under Gov. Rick Scott.  

A newly commissioned gambling study is soon to be released and some will look to expand gambling with its findings.  However, others are hoping it will bring to light various loopholes that can be closed.  The Herald continues:

The rulings have not gone without notice by top legislative leaders who have ordered up a comprehensive study of gambling in Florida. They say they want the debate to include the loophole-driven expansion of gambling, as well as a discussion about whether to authorize destination resort casinos being pushed by the world’s gambling giants.“It behooves the Legislature to walk through all the statutes very deliberately with the goal of possibly rewriting those statutes to add clarification,’’ said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee that will conduct the review next session.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a veteran of the gambling law fight who once lobbied on behalf of the Jacksonville greyhound track, believes the Legislature’s failure to reform its gambling laws has led to the inadvertent expansion of gambling.

“There are people who are looking at loopholes and these things expand gambling,’’ he said. “I’m for closing loopholes. I’m not for expanding gambling in Florida.’’

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Illinois looking to legalize online horse betting

Illinois is known for its diverse gambling venues. Everything from a state lottery to full casino gambling is legal in the state. Now, Illinois is looking to expand its horse betting business to the Internet.  An Illinois news source is reporting of the State’s latest attempt at solving budgetary problems with an expanded gambling plan:

Gambling on horse races on the Internet could become legal for Illinoisans as early as Wednesday.  The Illinois Racing Board is scheduled Tuesday to weigh giving three companies state licenses to handle online bets. If those companies are approved Tuesday, gamblers could use the approved Web sites to wager on horses from the comfort of their own homes as early as Wednesday.

Soon, the approved companies could start advertising, and Brubaker said he hopes the state will step up enforcement on non-licensed Web sites.

Estimates suggest the online betting could bring the state $1.5 million in additional revenue.  Opponents of online horse betting, though, argued letting people gamble online could lead to addiction and other problems.

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Kentucky House Passes Gambling Bill but Senate likely to vote no

Casino Watch Focus has reported numerous times on Ky Governor Steve Beshear’s attempt at expanding gambling by legalizing casinos.  Governor Beshear campaigned on the idea that he was going to make full scale casino gambling legal.  Of course, he faced opposition from the horse racing industry and countless pro-family, anti-gambling groups.  His attempt to pass legislation in the house failed last year when he fail to garner enough votes to get the bill out of the house.

Now it appears, Governor Beshear is still trying to expand gambling in Ky.  This time he is starting small and simply seeking to expand gambling at the racetracks.  An online article explains that the bill has passed the house, but has almost no chance and making out of the senate:

Governor Steve Beshear put on his acting face on Friday and applauded legislation passed in the state House that would expand gambling at racetracks in Kentucky. Then, he turned his attention to a little posturing to the state Senate. “An issue that is this important deserves the deliberation and vote of everyone,” said Beshear, “Now the question is will the Senate give everyone in its chamber the same privilege-an up-or-down vote on an issue of such importance to our Commonwealth.”

The answer to Beshear’s question will most likely be no. Senate President David Williams believes the gambling Bill has no chance of approval from the Senate. They have maintained that there is alternative ways of increasing revenue.

The legislators have been debating expanded gambling after Beshear added the issue to a special session this past week to help finalize the state budget. The governor’s main concern for months has been helping state racetracks increase their purses to stay competitive on a national level.

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Details of FBI wiretaps on Impeached Blagojevich’s alleged gambling related “pay to play” policy released

Casino Watch Focus has reported that the “pay to play” allegations of now Impeached Gov Blagojevich were centered around gambling.  Now, The Kansas City Star has reported on the content of the FBI wiretaps that lead to Blagojevich’s impeachment:

[I]mpeachment jurors were able to listen to FBI wiretaps of conversations in which he seems to demand campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation.

One person on the recordings assures Blagojevich that a horse-racing track owner “is good for it” and just has to decide “what accounts to get it out of.” Another assures him the track owner knows he must keep his “commitment” soon.

Blagojevich replies with comments such as “good” and “good job.” Legislation sought by the racing industry had been sent to the governor’s desk, and on the tapes, he says to reassure a racing lobbyist he hopes “to do this so we can get together and start picking some dates to do a bill-signing.”

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