The current tangle of regulations shows how haphazard things are:
Last year, the state allowed slot machine operators to run electronic games that mimic live roulette and craps games in Miami Dade and Broward. The shift raises questions about whether the casino look-alikes violate the gaming compact which gives the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to operate casino-style table games in Florida.
• John Lockwood, a lawyer working for Magic City Casino, used a loophole in the law regulating jai alai to allow the casino to get more slot machines.
• Marc Dunbar and David Rominik, lawyers and part owners in Gretna’s race track, persuaded regulators twice to allow them to bring alternative quarter horse racing to the track there despite vigorous opposition from the quarter horse industry which claimed it would hurt the growing industry.
• Dunbar is currently asking the state to convert Gulfstream’s unused quarter horse permit to property the company owns in Miami, so it can expand its slot machines operations there.
“My job for my client is to pursue their agenda and obviously I have a group of clients that are involved in the gambling industry that are pushing the envelope,’’ Dunbar said.
As each change approved by regulators affects one sector of the highly-competitive pari-mutuel market, another sector complains. The result: an avalanche of 21 lawsuits pending against the division.
On Friday, Calder Racetrack’s lawyers and Florida horse breeders and owners appeared before regulators warning that their decision to allow Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Racetrack in Hallandale Beach to expand their simulcast schedule may increase competition — but at a steep cost of Florida’s horse industry and its 6,000 breeders and owners.
“The governor is trying to bring new jobs to Florida, but this is something driving jobs away from Florida,” Stirling said at the hearing.
The company said the decision has already cost Calder $1.7 million and predicted it would cost $7.4 million in the next year. Stirling warned it would also send hundreds of people in ancillary industries into the unemployment line, and shift money from the live racing purses for Florida-bred horses to out-of-state racetracks.
“Without summer racing there is no industry in Florida,’’ said John Marshall, vice president of horse racing at Calder. “Two-year-olds need to race in the summer so they are ready to race when they are three years old,’’ the prime year for champion horses.
Dunbar and Lockwood acknowledge they are hired to exploit the holes in Florida’s gambling laws, but both suggest legislators should consider more comprehensive regulation, such as a gaming commission, similar to those in most major gaming states.
“You cannot legislate every realm of possibility in gaming law,’’ Lockwood said. “Everybody is creative. They’re looking for a work around.”
Dunbar said legislators are likely to resist change as they always have unless the governor steps up and sets the parameters of the debate, as former Gov. Jeb Bush did a decade ago.
“Until that happens, we will not get the comprehensive reform that we need,’’ he said. “The real heavy is the threat of the veto pen. The industry is desperate right now and we will actually help them constrict gambling — provided there are relief points.”