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Request For Veto To Decoupling Bill

Published: May 21, 2021 2:51 pm ET

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On Friday (May 21), the United States Trotting Association delivered a letter to Florida governor Ron DeSantis from USTA president Russell Williams urging him to veto the recently passed decoupling bill (SB 8A) that provided an exemption for Thoroughbred racing, but not harness racing, in the state.

The letter, in its entirety, appears below.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Dear Governor DeSantis:

I write to you in my capacity as the President of the United States Trotting Association (USTA) to urge you to veto SB 8A, a piece of legislation that would allow the state’s lone harness racing permit holder to retain its slot machine license while abandoning its obligation to conduct live racing. The USTA is a national, 17,000-member, not-for-profit association of Standardbred owners, breeders, drivers, trainers, and officials, organized to provide administrative, rulemaking, licensing, and breed registry services to its members, including a significant number who reside, race, and/or breed horses in Florida. If passed, the bill will signal the death knell of harness racing’s long and storied history in your state.

For decades, Pompano Park has been the “Winter Capital of Harness Racing,” hosting the sport’s best and brightest. Like all forms of pari-mutuel wagering, the sport does not command the attention it did during its salad days of the 1960s through the 1980s, and the competition posed by the immediacy of casino gaming (and now sports betting) has been devastating. In 2005, however, Broward County approved a referendum that allowed the development of “racinos,” allowing slot machines to be placed at existing pari-mutuel venues within the county. One reason for this was to aid the state’s racing industry, providing increased purses (prize money) and incentives to bolster this key agricultural industry. And it has worked. During its recently concluded 2021 season, Pompano Park set betting records, breaking the million-dollar mark on wagering 21 times during the season. In its history dating back to 1964, the track had a total of only six such nights. Business has been strong, and Pompano Park remains a vibrant part of the harness racing world.

I note with dismay that while Thoroughbred racing will be safeguarded from decoupling, harness racing will not be afforded this protection. According to a recent article in the Tallahassee Democrat, the reasoning is simple: The owners of the Thoroughbred tracks have indicated that they wish to continue to present the sport, while Pompano Park’s management has not. The innocent victims in this scenario are the thousands of Standardbred owners, trainers, drivers, grooms, breeders, and industry vendors whose jobs apparently are considered expendable by a gaming company that enjoys the generous profits produced by operating a casino that wouldn’t exist had not harness racing enabled them to get it in the first place.

SB 8A is unfair and wrong. It will put Florida horsemen out of work, place horses at risk, and prioritize corporate wants ahead of agricultural needs. Please veto this bill.


Russell C. Williams, President
United States Trotting Association


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