Decoupling measure quietly filed in Senate

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A bipartisan, last-ditch effort to pass a “decoupling” measure this Legislative Session took the form of an amendment tacked on to a deregulation bill late Tuesday.

Two South Florida senators – Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, and Joe Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat – filed the amendment to a Department of Business and Professional Regulation bill (HB 1187). The department also regulates gambling.

The amendment would delete language now in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling such as cardrooms. The move is known as decoupling.

Pari-mutuels want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline every year. Horse and dog interests say it will kill their industry.

Current law says that “for a cardroom license to be renewed the applicant must have requested, as part of its annual pari-mutuel license application, to conduct at least 90 percent of the total number of live performances” that were run the previous year.

The amendment removes that language, but leaves untouched a provision that tracks run a minimum of 100 races yearly, de la Portilla told FloridaPolitics.com.

He said he offered the amendment at the behest of lobbyists for the state’s pari-mutuels, whom he did not identify. The idea is provide uniformity for tracks across the state, he added.

“The idea is to do a little decoupling, if you will,” de la Portilla said after Tuesday’s floor session. “The bottom line is they would be able to run fewer performances but they would all run the same number per year.

“I wouldn’t even call it decoupling,” he said. “I’ve always been a supporter of not requiring businesses to do something they lose money on.”

His move, however, brought a denunciation from Jack Cory, lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association and the National Greyhound Association.

“The amendment is back-door decoupling,” he said. “The tracks promised that when they got cardrooms, they would not reduce live racing. They’re going back on their word.”

The “greed of the tracks is obscene to try to bring this up at this late date,” Cory said. The last day of session is Friday.

“Pari-mutuels … are a state-regulated monopoly,” he said. “The reason the monopoly was allowed was to run races, not to be cardrooms, not for off-track betting and it certainly wasn’t to be a slots casino, which is what they all want to become.”

The bill is now on the “special order” calendar for Wednesday, meaning senators can ask questions and offer still more amendments.

In the House, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, tried to use that same bill earlier this week as a vehicle for language legalizing fantasy sports play. That amendment did not make it onto the measure.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected].


5 comments

  • Weez

    March 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    How can they keep saying $$ wagered is declining? Total handle has increased like 45% since 2011. Facts mean nothing I guess w these clowns.

    • GeneFlorentz

      March 9, 2016 at 9:36 am

      Forgive me, but what in the world are you talking about? Handle was declined steadily and dramatically over the past 15 years.

  • Elaine Summerhill

    March 8, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    a “little decoupling”? Isn’t that like being a “little pregnant”?

  • Steve Faraldo

    March 9, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Sounds bad for harness fans ………

Comments are closed.


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