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Gambling bill on Florida pari-mutuels gets first approval

April 12, 2021 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s jai alai frontons, quarter horse and harness horse racing tracks could choose not to conduct live events and still be able to operate poker and slot machine rooms under a bill unanimously approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Monday.

Thoroughbred horse tracks would still have to conduct live racing under the bill, and while greyhound racing is now illegal in Florida, permit holders could still run card rooms and slots. Permit holders wouldn’t be able to move their licenses to new locations.

There was little debate on the bill, though some in the pari-mutuel industry expressed concerns. Mike Rogers, president of racing for the Stronach Group, which owns the Gulfstream Park thoroughbred track in Broward County, said there should be some sort of financial penalty for pari-mutuels if they stop live events.

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“The net affect of this decision places that thoroughbred industry at a serious competitive and economic disadvantage,” Rogers said.

Because pari-mutuel facilities would be able to lower their operating costs, they’d be able to spend more on marketing and player rewards incentives to attract gamblers. He suggested that permit holders who decide not to hold live events contribute to a common purse pool to help the thoroughbred industry conduct a full racing schedule.

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

Slot machines are allowed at Miami-Dade and Broward County pari-mutuels. Other pari-mutuels in Florida can operate poker rooms but not slots. Florida voters approved a ban on greyhound racing in 2018. The ban took effect at the end of December.