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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Florida Decoupling Dead for Now

With the legislation to allow for the decoupling of pari-mutuels (except for Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs) and casino gaming officially dead, harness horsemen are breathing a sigh of relief.

But make no mistake, while this legislation is dead, horsemen need to be ready for the zombie named Decoupling because like a B-rated horror film, this issue will keep coming back.  Whether racing is able to fend this beast off is hard to say.  To fend this creature off will require a lot of money, especially should future legislation have a carve out for thoroughbred racing for then it will be the standardbred industry fighting with quarter horse interests or alone.

The good thing is an attempt to decouple with a carve out does have a good chance of being declared unconstitutional as the Florida standardbred horsemen were previously victorious in court back in 2009, when the Circuit Court in the second district of Florida determined the law allowing racinos in the first place was unconstitutional as it only required a contract determining the sharing of slot revenue for thoroughbred racing and not for harness racing, citing the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution (the case didn't go further as Isle of Capri reached a settlement with the FSBOA).  Disclosure: I am not a lawyer.

With the importance of thoroughbred breeding and racing in certain districts of the state, the reality is if any decoupling bill is passed in the future, it would likely have a carve out for thoroughbred racing.  While any such legislation may be constitutionally suspect, if you can't afford to battle all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, it doesn't matter if the bill is flawed.  As I learned in Business Law 101, "It's not illegal until it is declared illegal".

While the FSBOA should continue to fight decoupling, it may be in their interests at the same time to make sure if decoupling were to take place, there would be certain guarantees to make sure they are treated fairly.  I offer the following ideas as a suggestion:

Should Isle of Capri surrender their racing license, it must be made available to any other party willing to conduct at least 100 days of racing a year.

If a new licensee was to arise to take over the existing standardbred license in the first year it became available, Isle of Capri would be required to lease the existing facility to the new licensee for $1 a year (all other operating costs would be picked up by the new operator) for a minimum of five years.  This would allow time to seek out a new location to race at.

If any horse racing facility were to decouple, they would no longer be able to offer simulcasting.  If unwilling to conduct racing, they should not be able to benefit from simulcasting.  Anyone taking over an existing license would be able to offer simulcasting.

If any fund to supplement purses is established for any breed, it must be offered for all breeds meaning should Pompano Park decouple, they would have to supplement purses at the same rate thoroughbred tracks would have to supplement purses.

Any non-horse racing industry required to supplement purses must also supplement harness racing purses (a minimum of 20% of their total assessment).

Should Pompano Park cease racing and no one picks up the standardbred license, any funds which would have been paid to supplement purses would be used to establish a fund for Florida standardbred breeders to compensate them for lost business, relocation, and/or transitioning to another type of farming for the next three years.  In addition to the assessment against decoupling facilities, a percentage of any payment from the Seminoles to the state should fund the transition fund to make up for any shortfall.  Drivers, trainers, and grooms should be eligible for lost earnings based on their average Florida earnings for the last three years racing is conducted in Florida provided they participated in Florida racing for all three years.  Payments should be made for three years or until the person relocates to another state or transitions to another industry.

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