Beware of Caesars bearing gifts

by Steve Wolf

By now most of you have heard about what has happened to pari-mutuel harness racing in the state of Florida. It’s going to end after the 2021-2022 season at Pompano Park.
In all likelihood, Pompano Park will close its harness racing stable area in May of 2022, never to open again. The word to remember is decoupling.

For 10 years the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (FSBOA) had fought decoupling and was winning the fight until this last special legislation gambling session in Tallahassee last week. The bill passed both the House and Senate and has been signed into law by Gov. DeSantis.

The Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (FSBOA) did have a choice months ago to take a deal from Caesars (reported to be upwards of $15 million cash and the racing license if they drop their lawsuit and go race someplace else). The FSBOA failed to take the deal in time and when the decoupling bill passed the FL Senate Committee unanimously, Caesars snatched the deal off the table).

This is a warning to every pari-mutuel harness racing track in the United States. Decoupling is headed your way.

Precedent has now been set and Caesars, Mohegan Sun, and any racinos not owned by a harness racing person, like a Jeff Gural, better watch out because they are already looking into how they can decouple and no longer have to conduct harness racing and still keep their casino(s) open. They are prepared for the long run. It took them 10 years in Florida.

And believe me, they are already wringing their hands.

Watch out Indiana, watch out Ohio, watch out Pennsylvania, especially Pennsylvania as the Wolf (Gov. Wolf) is already at the door. He may not get his way this year, but he won’t give up and now that decoupling has happened, he will be loaded up for bear next year.

Read the signs everyone. Nearly every racino track has pretty much done away with publicity and marketing for harness racing.

Yonkers Raceway, The Meadows, Harrah’s Philadelphia, Pocono Downs, Plainridge Racecourse and others all hire outside sources to do publicity or the horsemen’s association hires outsiders to cover their races. In some cases, the only time a story is written is when there is a stakes race or a $1 million handle night. Scioto Downs, Monticello Raceway, Hollywood Dayton, Miami Valley and others have GMs or the race secretary do the stories, if any are written at all.

Having worked 10 years as a senior director at Pompano Park for the Isle of Capri casinos taught me a lot of how the casino upper echelons work. They have no issues spending millions of dollars to get what they want. They know down the road they will earn it back three-fold. They have the financial backing, cut throat methods of trimming the so-called fat, and the ability to wait until the timing is right to strike.

If racing does not make enough EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization used as an indicator of the overall profitability of a business) then out the door they go. Stockholders only care about EBITDA.

Almost all forms of pari-mutuel racing (dogs, jai-alai and harness racing, though not the thoroughbreds) can now be decoupled in Florida. Everyone else in the USA better watch out as the racinos will be looking to decouple your racing.