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Florida Horsemen launch new website to oppose decoupling

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Florida racehorse owners are facing what could become an industry game changer as lawmakers consider “decoupling” horse racing to allow card rooms or slot machines.

Decoupling removes Florida’s requirement that pari-mutuel facilities must offer live horse racing, dog racing or jai alai games to allow card rooms and/or slot machines. Many major media outlets are reporting that decoupling is “done deal” in the Florida Legislature, while racehorse owners, trainers and breeders say they oppose the plan in any form.

The Florida Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, joined by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and other industry members, launched a new website called nodecoupling.com, which will be a focal point for anti-decoupling efforts. The two organizations represent 12,000 racehorse owners, trainers and breeders who do business Florida.

Nocoupling.com is part of a campaign to educate the public and lawmakers on the potential devastating effect of decoupling, which could become an issue during the Special Session that began Monday.

“The reason we even have slot machines in Florida today is because voters agreed to give our successful horse racing industry a fighting chance to compete against other states – states that legislate casino revenue as an incentive for their own horse racing industries,” FHBPA President Bill White said in a prepared statement. “Now casino-only interests want to jettison their prior commitment to Florida’s economy and just forget all of our horse racing businesses and the thousands of people they employ.”

NoDecoupling.com received a real boost this week with the involvement of financier Reid Nagle, who is also a Florida Thoroughbred racehorse trainer and works with several racing-related businesses in Central Florida. Nagle’s company, SNL Financial, recently sold for $2.25 billion last month.

Nagle has been a vocal opponent of decoupling, saying it would “cripple our business.”

“Opposing it is a no-brainer,” he said.

Industry leaders think decoupling will “trigger a statewide gambling avalanche.” When pari-mutuel permit holders are no longer required to hold live horse racing, it could severely disrupt the economic livelihood of horse breeders, trainers and owners statewide.

Much of the concern comes as Florida reconsiders expanding gambling as part of a renegotiated agreement with the Seminole Indian Tribe. A deal to renew the gambling arrangement, known as the Seminole Compact, could include decoupling, a move that would the door to ending racetracks having to hold live horse and dog racing as a requirement to offer more lucrative card rooms. The portion of the Compact, signed in 2010 to give the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other banked card games, expired this summer.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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