What is a typical day at the races like? Fred Tygart of Jacksonville, Fla., will tell you.
"When you go to the track," Tygart said, "there are only two winners -- that's the track owner and the state. Everyone else is a loser, because if you go there enough times you lose. When people lose, they get nasty. They serve alcoholic beverages at these tracks. They go to the lounge and get drunk. They get mean.They say nasty things when they get drunk and mean."
It would be easy to dismiss this view of the sport of kings as the ranting of a kook, except for one thing. Tygart is a member of his state legislature, which has the power to control most facets of the racing industry. lHis remarks, in fact, came during the course of debate on an important racing bill.
Almost every state's racing industry faces the problem of dealing with politicians who don't know or care much about the sport. Maryland's legislators talked to death a bill that had been advocated by every segment of the thoroughbred business. West Virginia's politicians have often seemed willing to let Charles Town Race Track die rather than grant a small amount of tax relief.
But these states are models of enlightenment compared with Florida. What may have been the all-time classic example of legislative benightedness occurred during a recent debate on a bill that would have permitted children between the ages of 12 and 18 to attend racetracks with their parents.
The fight over this seemingly innocuous measure may have been a portent of things to come nationally, as more and more politicians become concerned with legislating the morality of others. It's one thing when the Moral Majority tries to impose its views on matters like abortion or prayer upon the rest of the country, but it's a serious matter when it starts interfering with gambling.
To its proponents, the merits of the "minors bill" were obvious. Plenty of tourists come to Florida wanting to visit Hialeah or Gulfstream Park, but can't go unless they leave the children behind. The bill would not allow children to bet, and every other state permits children to attend tracks without dire consequences, so what was the problem?
"This bill is designed to do nothing more than hook children on gambling at a very early age," said one legislator.
"Gambling is a dangerous thing, just like alcohol," said another.
"We should be teaching our children to read and write and not how to box a quinella," said another.
"I think we ought to get to the nut of this coconut," said another. "Quite frankly, we're spinning the wheels of chance in exposing our children to the evils of gambling."
One advocate of the bill tried to argue that going to a racetrack would be a "learning experience," but Rep. John Lewis of Jacksonville shot back, "I guess if you're talking about sex education, you ought to take them to a whorehouse."
Rep. Linda Cox of Fort Lauderdale, the bill's sponsor, maintained that the measure was a family bill that would prohibit the state from interfering with the parent-child relationship. Her colleagues laughed her down, then voted her down, 67-50, thus protecting the morality of all the chidren of Florida for at least another year.