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Monday, July 31
VLT legislation long overdue
By Michael Compton
Wire to Wire
The Thoroughbred industry in Florida needs and deserves the benefits that passage of the Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) legislation currently before lawmakers in Tallahassee would provide. As expected, the bill was shot down in the House in mid-March, but a similar bill was approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee March 24.
Opponents of the measure express an unfounded concern that VLTs represent an expansion of gaming opportunities in the state and that adding video slot machines at racetracks will only encourage gamblers to gamble more, or even worse, possibly lure new gamblers to the racetrack.
Proponents, on the other hand, suggest VLTs could generate more than $1 billion a year for the state, swell purses at the racetrack (to keep Florida tracks in line with other facilities around the country) and grow incentives for the Thoroughbred industry.
The way I see it, VLTs at racetracks may possibly attract new fans to the Thoroughbred industry, at least that's one of the hopes, while at the same time generate such a revenue windfall for the industry and the state that everyone wins. With the state in a budget crunch, VLTs seem like an ideal answer to generate new money which can be used to help fund and support everything from healthcare to education and at the same time improve economic conditions within Florida's Thoroughbred industry.
The horse industry in Florida is vital to the state's economy. The industry produces goods and services valued at $2.2 billion. The Florida horse industry generates a $6.5 billion economic impact on the gross domestic product, and more than 200,000 Floridians are involved in the industry as owners, service providers and employees. There is so much more to this business than gambling. To kill this measure would be a mistake. To reduce the health and vitality of Thoroughbred racing in this state and the lives it impacts to a mere "gambling issue" is not justifiable.
Placing video slot machines at racetracks in Florida should not be viewed as an expansion of gambling. A plethora of opportunities already exist for gamblers wishing to wager their money in the state of Florida. Because gambling takes place at unregulated and untaxed Indian casinos in South Florida, the state never sees a penny and no portion of any of those wagers placed on horseracing in the state ever finds its way back to the people that are responsible for the product. Other wagering opportunities currently available in the state include gambling cruise ships, jai alai matches and the state sponsored lottery, not to mention online wagering entities which are nearly impossible to police and regulate. Basically, video slots are readily available for those with an appetite and they are utilized every day in Indian casinos, but the state and the state's horsemen fail to benefit.
The Board of Directors of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association voted unanimously to support the VLT measure if the State could not stop unregulated Indian gaming and gambling cruise ships.
"The FTBOA's Board has worked hard on this measure for the last two years," said Richard Hancock, executive vice president of the FTBOA. "It's our number one priority. We have expressed how important this issue is, and now we need breeders, owners, trainers and others in the industry to voice their opinions."
According to a Bear Sterns "Gaming Industry" report, "The sport of kings is under pressure from bettors, horsemen, lawmakers, and most importantly, from other forms of gaming. That's rightócommercial casino gamingóNative American gaming, lotteries, and internet gambling."
The racing industry deserves this shot in the arm. With competition for the entertainment dollar more intense than ever, the industry needs this bill's passage just to keep pace in an ever-changing and challenging environment. The additional purse money generated through VLTs would ensure and protect the livelihood of Florida's Thoroughbred industry, assuming the State and tracks leave a fair and equitable portion of the funds for the industry. VLTs will also create a new and much needed revenue stream for the state of Florida. Passage of this legislation is long overdue.
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