Category Archives: Horse Racing

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.”

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


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