By Nick Sortal
11:56 AM EDT, October 23, 2013
Here’s what happens when a city commissioner tries to get involved in state gambling policy: Incomplete information, a skittish pari-mutuel owner and the commissioner calling the mayor a name.
(Note: We have an upate below)
Hallandale Beach commissioner Michele Lazarow at last Wednesday’s meeting asked fellow commissioners to approve a resolution supporting decoupling – the idea that horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons should not be required to operate pari-mutuels as they do now in order to offer slots. Dog track and jai-alai owners say they’re losing money hand over fist, and love the idea.
Dog track owners have an ironic alliance with animal rights group GREY2K on the issue -- both have told legislators they want less racing. So Lazarow, an animal-right activist, proposed the resolution. She is set to speak Wednesday at the Senate workshop in Coconut Creek.
She and others stressed that Mardi Gras Casino (dog track) president Dan Adkins (properly) wanted disassociated from the resolution, if for no other reason than that a city telling the state what to do can only inflame things.
“It just creates grief,” Adkins said Monday. “I’d have no choice but to come to the meeting and oppose it, but she said she’d tell people that I had nothing to do with.” Which Lazarow did.
(As an aside, Adkins said that decoupling is a tougher issue than even the most knowledgeable think. He cites relationships with second- and third-generation kennel owners, and “I have respect for these people.”)
Lazarow’s resolution didn’t go well, with Mayor Joe Cooper backing off, noting that all of the city’s legislative recommendations are regularly balled into one, “comprehensive” package.
“This isn’t the time or place,” Cooper said.
Lazarow, seeing her battle losing, grew more combative, as you can see on the 10-minute piece of the meeting that starts at about 2:07.55 of the Hallandale Beach version of the meeting. She cites four state legislators as supporting decoupling.
Updated: Lazarow on Wednesday called me and was 100 percent contrite, saying "My responses were unprofessional."
She didn't want to shun off any of the blame (she also said she can't bring herself to look at the tape), but by way of explanation, added, "But there were other things behind it." She also repeated that the resolution wasn't any different than what the commission had passed it unanimously in an earlier legislative package -- and she pointed that out during the meeting.
Lazarow (in response to one commissioner): I’m aware of all of this, so you’re not going to educate me. I don’t know why we’re even having this conversation.
Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy: We’re having this conversation because decoupling will happen in the Florida Legislature. I personally called Mr. Dan Adkins …. if we pass this it will be viewed in Tallahassee as if Mardi Gras itself was trying to push for this. (Lewy favors decoupling, and says it should cruise through the legislature.)
Lazarow: So why can’t we send something on behalf of the city? What’s the deal?
Lewy: It would be viewed as Mardi Gras Casino … itself is pushing, creating more of a fight.
Lazarow: I heard you the first time.
Later, Lazarow (to Commissioner William Julian): Did you read the resolution? … Then it tells you every reason why it’s a good idea.
Julian: … It doesn’t say every reason because there are some bad ideas about it, too. This does affect the greyhound industry. I don’t know if any of you ever experienced decoupling … but I have when I raced my horses at Birmingham Turf Club in Alabama in the mid-90s… After that (decoupling), what happened was it passed and the entire horse industry in Alabama went out of business.
Lazarow (later, to Lewy): Let’s not have this conversation because it’s going to upset me. You’re not supporting it, then speaking on an advocacy point of view … it’s an insult to me, personally. So please don’t do that.
Cooper: I’d just like to share an observation. There’s a certain time and place for everything.
Lazarow: (Audible groan.)
Cooper then talks about the legislative policy protocol, the last time of which included discussion of decoupling and notes how Lazarow is passionate about the topic.
Lazarow: … this isn’t passion. This is advocacy.
Cooper: You’re interrupting me. Excuse me, you’re interrupting me. Please.
Lazarow: You’re giving me a lecture.
Cooper: Please stop interrupting me, excuse me. I’m not lecturing, I’m trying to share some thought.
Lazarow: You’ve already shared it. You’ve already said your piece.
Cooper: Well, I’ll share it with the rest of the commission.
Lazrow: Yes, because you’re a (unintelligible.) (Lazarow later said she didn't remember what she said, but noted that it was more unintelligble than unprintable. Not appropriate, but clearly not any of the top five things you'd call someone in your own house.)
Lewy: Oh, Lord.
Cooper: And we don’t have to do name-calling.
They voted 3-2 to table.
What’s lost, though, is that if Hallandale Beach were to become involved in supporting pari-mutuels, they have two, not one pari-mutuel in the city.
Gulfstream Park spokesman David Joseph confirmed no one asked Gulfstream. To those who don’t follow gambling that much, pari-mutuels never want their competitors to have an upper leg. So Gulfstream, naturally, would not support decoupling, a move that would help Mardi Gras reduce expenses. And decoupling also is opposed, naturally, by dog trainers, and horse trainers, who fear that not requiring pari-mutuels for slots could have a snowball effect. Then there’s the idea that pari-mutuels campaigned for slots on the idea that it would save their industry…
“We’d be against that kind of a resolution,” Joseph said.
Cooper clearly explained her position on looking at a comprehensive package, rather than one resolution, for the city’s gambling interest, and had plenty to say about the topic.
But not much about Lazarow. Cooper said she didn’t remember the name-calling, nor did she expect an apology, noting that she’s been knocked around verbally plenty of times. Lewy, who appears to be the calm one on the tape, said he still thinks decoupling will cruise, and as far as Lazarow goes “I admire her passion.”
Updated: Lazarow said she had spoken before the resolution with Adkins, and when the other commissioners began relating their conversations with him, there were some differences -- and had her conversation with Adkins focused more on his fear of political implications, she might have pulled the resolution.
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