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Friday, March 21, 2014

Horsemen, Don't be Out Gunned

The FSBOA had Joe Pennacchiorepresenting harness horsemen at the Florida House of Representative Select Committee on Gaming meeting this week which is considering pari-mutuel reform.  Pennacchio asked that harness racing be given equality with thoroughbred and quarter horse racing in that harness permit holders (Isle of Capri) be required to have a contact with horsemen in order to have casino gambling.  

The original bills HB 1033 and SB 1170, had language requiring a contract determining purses (and by default what percentage of slot revenue would go to harness horsemen) in order to have a gaming license.  Lobbyists for Isle of Capri had managed to get an amendment through which allows harness racing (pg 202-204) to be the only type of racing without such protection.  

From Mr. Pennacchio's statement (roughly the 18:00 mark), you can see how well Isle of Capri has taken care of them (sarcasm intented).  Harness racing now races for less purse money than they did before casino gambling came into being.  The racing facility is run down and for the most part closed and slot revenue is not shared with the horsemen under any contract.  Despite the way the harness industry has gone down hill in the state while the thoroughbred and quarter horse industry thrives, it just seems the harness horsemen get no assistance from the legislature.  It would appear the harness horsemen lack political support and are over matched when it comes to lobbying the legislature.  All the standardbred horsemen want is fairness, apparently something unattainable in the Sunshine State.

Fortunately, it appears this bill will go nowhere for now as the Governor has asked the legislature to apply the brakes to gaming legislation as he works on a new compact with the Seminole Indian Nation in Florida.  However, you have to wonder how they will be treated when gambling legislation comes up again.  It promises to be ugly.

Where has things gone wrong for standardbred interests in the state?  No doubt thoroughbred racing is king and quarter horse racing has support which makes things easier for them in the legislature but make no mistake, it takes cash and a political action committee to curry favor with legislators.  It may go against some people but the fact is campaign donations help legislators see your side of the story.  I have no doubt Isle of Capri lobbyists ran roughshod over standardbred interests in getting the legislation modified.  How else do you explain such an illogical decision?   Why shouldn't harness interests be treated the same as thoroughbred and quarter horse interests when it comes to allowing slot machines to operate?  Why is it okay for a contract required to be signed by the other two breeds but Pompano Park has the right to operate their slot machines without a purse agreement?  What is the difference?  Influence.

Let this be a lesson to horsemen and owners in other states.  Fund your PACs as much as possible because you can't show up when a bill comes up and expect favors.  You need to curry favor and distribute the campaign contributions before the need arises.  It's not secret Pennsylvania horsemen are successful in their lobbying efforts as they have been able to fight off (or minimize) raids on their slot contributions to their purse account..

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