Florida Bill to End Horse Racing, Jai Alai for Most Racinos and Card Clubs Advances

Posted on: April 13, 2021, 10:18h. 

Last updated on: April 13, 2021, 10:40h.

Florida’s quarter horse and harness racing tracks, as well as jai alai frontons, could soon choose to end hosting live pari-mutuel sporting events, but continue to operate their card clubs and racinos. 

Florida racino card club parimutuel horse racing
Pompano Park is pictured here in its third harness racing season in 1965. If new gaming legislation seeking to end live racing requirements at most pari-mutuel racetracks passes, such horse racing could come to an end in Florida. (Image: South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Three articles of legislation were passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee this week. The bills work together to terminate the requirement that pari-mutuel racinos and card clubs can only operate at horse racetracks and jai alai venues that regularly conduct live events. 

Senate Bill 7076, S7078, and S7080 all received unanimous approval, with little debate in the Senate committee. 

Pari-mutuel facilities located outside the counties of Miami-Dade and Broward can only operate card clubs with non-house-banked games. Parimutuel racinos inside those two counties can operate the same card games, but also slot machines. 

The legislation is being pushed by Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). He argues that, similar to former greyhound pari-mutuel tracks, which no longer hold live competitions after state residents voted to outlaw dog racing in 2018, quarter and harness horse racing tracks and jai alai venues should be afforded the same rights.

Opposition Speaks

The three Senate bills have been moved for further consideration to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They’re set for initial discussion this Thursday, April 15. 

Simpson said the goal of the legislation is to make sure that laws are updated to “reflect current realities of the industry.” But Mike Rogers, president of racing for the Stronach Group, which acquired Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fl., in 1999 for $95 million, believes the bills would put his company’s facility at a competitive disadvantage. 

Under Simpson’s legislation, Florida’s two thoroughbred horse racetracks — Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs — would still need to continue holding live races. 

The net effect of this decision places the thoroughbred industry at a serious competitive and economic disadvantage,” Rogers told the Regulated Industries Committee.

Rogers opined that ending the live quarter horse, harness horse racing, and jai alai requirement would allow those racinos and card clubs to better invest in marketing and player rewards. 

“Putting our casino at a disadvantage would seriously jeopardize this [horse racing] schedule, directly impacting one of the world’s most coveted thoroughbred racing and breeding markets,” Rogers declared.

The Casino at Gulfstream Park offers guests card games, slots, and electronic table games.

Pari-mutuel Penalty

Rogers has recommended that the legislation be amended to require pari-mutuel venues that end live events but continue to operate card clubs or racinos pay a financial penalty. That money would be directed into a thoroughbred horse racing prize fund. 

Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, also suggested to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee that lawmakers review considerations to best protect thoroughbred racing from any impact caused by the pari-mutuel proposals. 

“As this legislative process moves forward, we are hopeful that additional consideration will be given towards our thoroughbred track partners in terms of rewarding their notable commitment … in keeping their original purpose of their permits in place by running live, full thoroughbred schedules of racing,” Powell said.