Read What National Horse Racing Media Has To Say About Florida’s Misguided “Decoupling” Proposal

bloodhorse-logo1Top national Thoroughbred turfwriter Tom LaMarra noted in his September 29, 2015 column that “Efforts by casino operators and lawmakers to back away from the original intent of laws that linked approval for gaming to live pari-mutuel racing—some of the legislation has titles that expressly mention preservation of horse racing and breeding—are nothing new. In some states the pushback began only several years after the laws took effect.”

“Florida’s two Thoroughbred tracks do far better than most in the country, and it’s apparent by how well their product is received in the marketplace. Messing with that progress now, as the industry attempts to reinvent itself, certainly isn’t the way to go.”

Click HERE to read Tom LaMarra’s entire column, entitled “A Big Step Backward.”

One reader wisely commented:

“If lawmakers want to see the future of horse racing in a decoupled state, they ought to look at Illinois.  Arlington Park, perhaps the finest horse racing facility in the country, has seen its handle plunge an unthinkable 50% in just two years.  Lawmakers there have decimated an entire industry and for what? Because the casino owners want a monopoly share of the gambling market.  It’s not as if the casinos will fail, they will still thrive either way; horse racing tracks will go under and take an entire industry with them.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Action on Gretna Racing Slot Machine Ruling Cheered by Florida’s Thoroughbred Racehorse Owners and Trainers

In response to the news that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has requested a full-court rehearing of a recent ruling allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC, Florida’s Thoroughbred racehorse owners and trainers agreed that, without such intervention, the result of allowing the earlier decision to stand would indeed be a “jaw-dropping gambling expansion.”

Representing more than 6,000 horsemen statewide, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President Bill White reminded that, during the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.   Other pari-mutuel permit holders followed suit, basing their actions on various convolutions of horse-related events designed as work-arounds to Florida law, which requires two years worth of live horse racing as a prerequisite to licensing for card rooms or slot machines.

In 2013, it was adjudicated that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input.

The most recent developments in the Gretna Racing matter have led horsemen to question whether a slot license legally can, or should be granted to the North Florida pari-mutuel permitholder, or any similar permitholder that has used horse-related events in a manner that has precluded the creation of jobs, businesses and positive economic benefit that would normally come with accredited horse racing and breeding operations.

The FHBPA and its colleagues, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, have strongly objected to the use of questionable horse-related events like “flag dropping” and “pari-mutuel barrel racing” in lieu of horse racing–heretofore unheard-of events that have been allowed to serve as the pari-mutuel basis for licensing of 365-day cardrooms, simulcasting or efforts to secure slot machines.

“If accredited horse racing would have been required in these locations, their local communities could have created far more jobs, businesses and economic impact,” White explained.  “For this reason, we urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing American Quarter Horse racing industry.”

“This is a good opportunity to remind our policymakers  that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits,” White noted.

For Now, “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Qualifies Gretna Racing LLC For Slots

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA’s Dara Kam reported on May 29, 2015:   “In what could be a game changer in Florida’s gambling arena, an appeals court today ordered state regulators to allow slot machines at a Gadsden County racetrack . . . “

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is disappointed that the First District Court of Appeal ruled on May 29, 2015 in favor of allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC.  We are hopeful that the Florida Attorney General will continue in her efforts.

During the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.

Given that three court rulings have held that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input, the FHBPA strongly questions whether a slot license legally can, or or should be granted to Gretna Racing LLC, or any similar permit that has used horse-related events in a manner afoul of the “pari-mutuel barrel racing” court rulings.

Further, for every pari-mutuel permit that has since been used in this manner to gain a 365-day per year card room, slot referendum or otherwise, there have been thousands of Florida horsemen’s jobs lost that would otherwise have been created if accredited and legitimate horse racing would have been required in these locations.

We urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing Quarter Horse racing industry.

This is a good opportunity to remind that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits on the backs of horsemen’s small businesses.

To read news coverage by Dara Kam of THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA, click HERE.

Gambling regulators at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation rejected Gretna Racing’s request for slot machines late in 2013, relying in part on an opinion issued by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office represented the agency in the First DCA lawsuit.

Gretna Racing has since conducted “flag drop” events, which are not approved, accredited or sanctioned in any way by theFlorida Quarter Horse Racing Association, which is the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Florida Horse Racing Trainer Bonus–FHBPA‬ Fuels ‪‎Gulfstream Park‬ $250 Incentive; Track to Cover Florida Horse Shipping, Return Expenses

Have you heard? ‪#‎FHBPA‬ Partnership Fuels ‪#‎GulfstreamPark‬ $250 Trainer Incentive; Track to Cover Certain Shipping Expenses

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Backstretch Fund will provide the “seed money” for the $250 trainer starter bonus recently announced by Gulfstream Park. The $250 bonus begins July 1 and runs through October 1, 2015.

Note:  At least eight (8) horses must leave the paddock in order for all trainers in the race to be eligible.

The “Backstretch Fund” money does not come from purses (owners).   This is a separate fund that is matched by 50% from Gulfstream Park’s bottom line.  This is the third year that the trainer incentive has been  in place at the Hallandale Beach, Florida racetrack.

Gulfstream will also fully cover shipping and return expenses within Florida for horses competing at the track.

 

 

 

 

Florida Horse Racing Medication Statute To Change on “Racing of Animals Under Certain Conditions Prohibited: Penalties; Exceptions”

It is likely that, by the deadline of June 2, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott will sign House Bill 239 Florida Race Day Medication which will change Chapter 550.2415, Florida Statutes rather dramatically.  Chapter 550.2415 is the “medication statute” under whose direction Florida Thoroughbred horsemen have raced for the last 25 or more years.

Despite the fact it was always up to the Florida Legislature to make any changes to this law,  various industry leaders and organizations have freely shared their opinions about Florida being the major “obstructionist” state to the adoption of national uniform medication rules.  Sadly, I have heard this constantly at Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) meetings, rehashed to the point that the Jockey Club sent their Executive Vice President to Florida (twice) to meet with the FHBPA and the track veterinarian.  We worked through a lot of issues, but still had one issue that was never resolved to my satisfaction, which we will touch on later.

Meanwhile, for the past two years, Gulfstream Park, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association) were on board to get legislation passed that would lead to Florida joining the national movement to achieve uniformity in medication rules.  Ultimately, the 2015 Florida Legislature agreed unanimously with HB 239 which passed the House 112-0 and the Senate by a 40-0 vote.

So exactly what changes can we expect if this bill becomes law and goes into effect on July 1, 2015?   Below, I will review the major revisions to Chapter 550.2415 as they occur in HB 239.

First, language has been changed for drug testing from “immediately prior” to “before” the race to permit testing for gene and blood doping, which can only be detected days before a race and then only has about a two-day “window” for detection after administration.

Second, the fine that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) can impose for a drug violation has been increased from $5,000 to “an amount not exceeding the purse or sweepstakes earned by the animal . . . or $10,000 whichever is greater.”

Third, the prosecution for a violation of this statute must begin within “90 days” of the drug test positive.  The old language gave the DPMW two years to commence prosecution for a violation.

Fourth, the DPMW must now notify the “appropriate horsemen’s association” of all positive drug test results.  In these cases, the FHBPA can often explain the horsemen’s rights and assist in choosing a split sample laboratory if necessary.

Fifth, if there is an insufficient quantity for a split sample after the lab has called a positive on the sample, the DPMW can take no further action against the trainer, and the positive is dismissed.  In the past, if there was an insufficient quantity for the split sample, the DPMW could take administrative action against the trainer based solely on the Florida Laboratory’s finding.

Sixth, The DPMW “shall require its laboratory . . . to annually participate in an externally administered quality assurance program (QAP) designed to assess testing proficiency in the detection and appropriate quantification of medications, drugs . . . ”  Results and findings of this QAP shall be sent to the DPMW and the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Seventh, the DPMW shall adopt the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule which, at the time, established thresholds and withdrawal times for 26 medications (which has now grown to 30 medications).  Just about every major racing jurisdiction has adopted these 26 or 30 medications.  The science behind some of thresholds and withdrawal times for these medications is suspect, but for the most part it’s a good start towards national uniformity.

Eighth, the Florida laboratory will now be required to include its measurement uncertainty, or laboratory error, in all quantifications of medications which will greatly reduce the low-level findings of our lab that have led to over 150 bute overages and over 250 clenbuterol positives in the past two years.

Ninth, the DPMW shall adopt any laboratory screening levels approved by the ARCI beyond the 26/30 Controlled Therapeutic  Medications.  If there are none forthcoming from ARCI, Florida could treat these therapeutic medications with zero tolerance testing.

Tenth, prednisolone sodium succinate, better known as Solu-Delta Cortef will no longer be permitted on race day.  Florida was the last state with a legal race day medication beyond Lasix.  We tried to save it, but to no avail.

Eleventh, the statute that permitted testing of ARCI Class IV and V medications only by Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) that I wrote in 1996 was also deleted from the law by HB 239.   We knew this would be inevitable, but it stood up for 19 years.

Florida Horsemen Thwart Horse Racing Decoupling Amendment; FHBPA President Bill White Calls Out Big Casino Maneuvering

Florida Horsemen Thwart Horse Racing Decoupling Amendment; FHBPA President Bill White Calls Out Big Casino Maneuvering

“The State of Florida’s interest in gambling is to generate tax revenue, not to create the most profitable environment for gaming operations.”–FTBOA General Counsel Warren Husband

It was enough to give even the most experienced horseman a bad case of heartburn.

Reckoning day was April 21, 2015 in Tallahassee as the Florida House of Representatives’ powerful Finance and Tax Committee called roll to prepare for a debate on “decoupling,” with a specific amendment on decoupling horse racing taking dead aim on HB 1233, a massive overhaul of the state policy that could substantially expand Florida’s gambling landscape if enacted.

Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President and Calder Hall of Fame veteran Thoroughbred trainer Bill White straightened his tie, squared his shoulders and walked in.

A pantheon of casino industry lobbyists packed the committee room as White took his place at the front, shoulder to shoulder with his somber colleagues from the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) and Standardbred interests.  Together, they faced a gallery of legislators preparing to decide on the amendment to “decouple” horse racing from other forms of gambling in Florida.  The fate of horsemen–the trainers, owners and breeders who drive the lucrative horse racing business in the Sunshine State–hung in the balance.

“The State of Florida’s interest in gambling is to generate tax revenue, not to create the most profitable environment for gaming operations,” FTBOA General Counsel Warren Husband explained to legislators.   With 25,000 horses annually engaged in the business of Florida racing or breeding, the biggest economic impact is gained through ensuring adequate racing days, he added.

But in an age of “less government,” the concept of “decoupling” has become the rallying cry of casino operators seeking to rid themselves of horse racing altogether.  As White  listened to their impassioned arguments calling for “fairness” and “leveling the playing field” by leaving it up to pari-mutuel permitholders as to whether to conduct live racing or not, he wondered if legislators were aware of the many livelihoods and small businesses at stake.

He thought of the many faces of FHBPA members who were even now working on the backstretch as he jotted notes to himself far away in Tallahassee, readying himself for the trial by fire at hand.  Just one month into his new role as FHBPA President, the frustration of hearing horse racing trivialized over and over again as unremarkable collateral damage by those who may have never even seen a racetrack welled up in him as he strode to the podium when he was finally called to speak.

Right off the bat, White set the record straight on who the 6,000 FHBPA members are.  “We are the real deal as far as the horse owners who put up the money and the trainers’ small businesses who do the work,” he established.

The actual leveling of the playing field, was done by voters, who approved slots in 2004 to ensure that Florida horse racing could continue to compete with northern tracks already flush with casino money that was luring the best horsemen away from the state, he explained.  Stand-alone casinos were never the intent.

“Slots are here in Florida because of horse racing,” FQHRA Executive Director Steve Fisch said during his testimony.  “(Slots were) not a plan to race a few years, drop racing and then just have slots . . . a fair deal is a two-way street.”

Delivering a powerful punch to casino-only interests in his closing, White called out their presumptuousness in assuming the Florida Legislature would simply cave to special interests and ignore horsemen’s needs.

“Right now, whether you know it or not–even before decoupling might happen, Churchill Downs is tearing down the barns at Calder in anticipation that it will happen.  Horses have been displaced and even put in tents.  It’s been a real hardship.”  White fired his parting salvo:  ” . . . as a horseman who has invested my life in this game, I find this action insulting that an entity would take it upon themselves to do this before the Legislature has even acted.”

The horsemen’s strong unified presence paid off with the defeat of the horse racing decoupling amendment.  And although the greyhound-related decoupling provisions of HB 1233 passed that day, the clock ran out as the 2015 Legislative Session came to a contentious close just over a week later.

“We still have plenty of work to do,” he reminded FHBPA Board members as he gave his report upon coming back home to South Florida.  “I am urging horsemen to take all necessary steps to make your presence known to your Senators and State Representatives.  Your involvement is crucial.”

With the call of a Special Session anticipated this week for legislators to pass a state budget after they were unable to do so during the regularly scheduled Session, the general consensus is that gaming issues will likely not be on the agenda.  However, horsemen are urged to stay vigilant in the event that HB 1233 surfaces during the anticipated June 1 through June 20 Special Session time period.

To view the entire hearing, click HERE.  White’s testimony begins at minute mark 30:20.

“Gretna 5.0” Gambling Creep Could Come To Debary, Florida

Debary City Council to Take Up Proposed “Land Use Change” on May 6 Agenda

May 6, 2015–Carrying with it the suspected possibility of continuing the recent gambling creep in Florida via unsanctioned horse-related events, a “land use change” that professional Florida horsemen fear could actually be “Gretna 5.0” is on the Debary City Council agenda today.

Representing Thoroughbred and accredited Quarter Horse racehorse owners, trainers and breeders statewide, Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Bill White and Vice President Tom Cannell will be on hand to appear before the Debary City Council in Volusia County with the hope of conveying the devastating toll taken on Florida’s lucrative horse racing industry by spurious horse events posing as fronts for cardrooms and even slot machines.

“A real horse racing meet requires thousands of horses and nearly three times the employees to care for them,” White explained.  “We are highly concerned that the connections of Debary Real Estate Holdings are not planning to hold real horse racing.   Unfortunately, without ensuring legitimate racing operations from the outset of the proposed project, the Debary and Volusia County economy will not ever be able to realize the far-reaching commensurate benefits that real horse racing and breeding can bring.”

The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, the only organization that can sanction legitimate Quarter Horse racing in Florida, confirmed that it has not been contacted by Debary Real Estate Holdings, which has direct connections to Gretna Racing, Inc., the same pari-mutuel permitholder that attempted to legalize “pari-mutuel barrel racing.”

“The proposal behind today’s ‘land use change’ request will not bring more jobs, more green space, more economic impact or more revenue without accredited horse racing,” White explained.  “For each spurious pari-mutuel permit that is allowed to operate, Florida forfeits a large piece of its horse racing industry at a critical time when the need to create jobs is at its most urgent.”

To access the May 6 Debary City Council agenda, click here.

Recent news coverage by Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal on the Debary Real Estate Holdings issue:

Media Inquiries Please Contact Kent Stirling at (305) 625-4591 or Bill White at (954) 303-5448