Harness Racing Act Pulls Constitutional Challenge

A group representing horse breeders, trainers, owners and drivers filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that could end decades of harness racing in Florida.

The Florida Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association has filed suit in Leon County Court after lawmakers in May lifted a long-standing demand that Pompano Park — the only harness track in the state — hold live races to allow for other types of gambling. keep offering.

The lawsuit alleges, in part, that the law violates the constitutional rights of equal protection because it treats harness racing differently from thoroughbred races. The legislature has not lifted the requirement for live racing on thoroughbred tracks.

“As a result of the enactment (of the Act), the harness horses that have historically participated in live harness racing at Pompano Park will be treated differently and in a much less financially favorable manner than the riders in the same situation who participate in thoroughbred races at Pompano Park. the facilities of Florida’s thoroughbred licensees,” the lawsuit said. “It is the claim of FSBOA (the Florida Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association) that there is no valid reason for this difference in treatment between riders performing similar, if not identical, horse races.”

The challenge also argues that the measure is an unconstitutional “special” law because parts of it would apply only to PPI Inc., which operates Pompano Park in Broward County. The constitutional ban on special laws is in part intended to prevent the legislature from passing laws in favor of specific companies.

The law was passed during a special legislative session in May that focused primarily on a multi-billion dollar gambling deal, known as a pact, between the state and the Seminole tribe.

The law revised a long-standing requirement that pari-mutuels must hold live races or jai alai games if they also wanted to operate more lucrative card rooms and, in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, slot machines. Lawmakers agreed to waive the requirement — a move known in the gambling industry as “decoupling” — for rig and quarterhorse tracks and jai alai pediments.

Only thoroughbred tracks were required to continue running races, an exception spurred, at least in part, by the economically vital thoroughbred industry in the Ocala area. Florida voters passed a 2018 constitutional amendment banning greyhound racing, paving the way for dog tracks to end races, while preserving other gambling activities.

The lawsuit said PPI has indicated it will end harness racing. The case names the Pari-Mutuel Wagering and PPI division of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as defendants.

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