Florida Lawmaker Files Legislation To Revive Harness Racing

Written By Sam Hollingsworth on February 10, 2023
Florida harness racing could return under legislation

Harness racing may not be done in Florida after all. At least that’s what thousands of people involved in the sport led by Democratic Rep. Dan Daley – are hoping. 

Daley’s filing of House Bill 275 gives harness racing a glimmering chance to return to The Sunshine State after nearly a full year away.

Last harness racing event was in April 2022 at Pompano Park

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Florida horse racing industry is one of the largest in the country. Several world-class racetracks and countless pari-mutuel facilities call the Sunshine State home. Florida bettors can also access several apps, including TVG, to wager on horse races online.

Additionally, it’s one of only two sports in the Sunshine State that’s legal to bet on.

Harness racing ended in Florida in early 2022 when then-Isle Casino at Pompano Park ran its final race card on April 17. The sport has not taken place in the state since.

Harness racing Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey, Pompano Park’s all-time winningest driver, told Harness Link after the final race that it felt like a death had occurred.

“I wouldn’t call it depression to talk about the ending of racing at Pompano. It’s more like a funeral. That’s the way I feel. And that you can’t control it.”

Although harness racing won’t happen at Pompano ever again, HB 275 is an attempt to at least allow the sport to happen at other tracks in Florida.

Decoupling brought about end of harness racing in Florida

The end of harness racing in Florida was thanks to a law passed in 2021. It altered the state’s gambling requirements for operators through something known as “decoupling.”

Decoupling is when casinos can legally host card games or slots without running live wagering events, like quarter-horse racing, harness racing or jai-alai matches. Decoupling did not eliminate Thoroughbred racing in the state because lawmakers saw it as essential in The Sunshine State.

This law was part of a multi-billion-dollar gambling compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

Before the compact, the law said any facility offering gaming had to be joined by a live gaming operationOnce decoupling was permitted, the Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park, which first debuted harness racing in 1964, changed its business model

Pompano racetrack will now be a massive resort community

It could now operate its games without a live event. “The Pomp,” as it was often called, ceased all harness racing operations to redevelop the land. Through a business partnership with Caesars Entertainment and The Cordish Companies, the project was officially rebranded to Harrah’s Pompano Beach.

The project will include 950 hotel rooms, 4,000 living residences, an entertainment district with retail stores and more. Though it will certainly create jobs in Florida, it also eliminates several jobs in the horse racing industry. Daley claims that 15,000 jobs are at stake with the shutdown of harness racing in the state.

“Thousands of families are counting on us to do what is right for Florida,” said Daley.

Horses are critical to Florida’s economy

In North America, harness racing uses Standardbred horses. Known as trotters or pacers, the horses have shorter legs and longer bodies than Thoroughbred horses. 

There are more than 60 Standardbred horse farms in Florida, as well as seven training centers, Daley said. He said he grew up working in the stables. He wrote in an op-ed for Florida Politics in 2021 that horses are a major industry in Florida.

“During the peak season, there are more horses in Florida than in any other state, providing a reliable economic benefit to many Floridians.”

And that is surely a big factor for not including Thoroughbred racing in the list of decoupled live events.

This harness racing situation is similar to when the state eliminated greyhound racing. Facilities could offer other gambling activities after shutting down their dog racing operations.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
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Sam Hollingsworth

Sam is a native New Yorker with a long history of sports betting as well as watching, wagering, and owning racehorses, and, of course, casino-frequenting. He enjoys visiting sporting venues — anything from the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to any baseball game regardless of the level of play or length of the drive to get there, and any horse racing venue. Sam is a marketing executive, father, and dog owner with a zest for life and love for exploring.

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