© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
Just days before Gretna Racing LLC begins conducting “pari-mutuel barrel racing” in lieu of Quarter Horse racing, a long-time employee of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Chief Investigator, Jim Barnes, quietly announced his immediate retirement from the State in order to pursue a newly available job opportunity in the private sector.
The combination of Mr. Barnes’ abrupt career change and the conspicuous timing of his departure is raising more than a few eyebrows. The veteran regulator is leaving the agency just in time to assume his new title as Gretna Racing LLC’s Chief of Security for the brand new facility’s much acclaimed opening day on Thursday, December 1.
Yesterday, November 29, 2011, a Leon County circuit judge refused to stay litigation currently pending at the Division of Administrative Hearings that challenges the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s unprecedented approval of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” as a brand new form of gambling in Florida. The lawsuit is expected to lead to the depositions of Division officials believed to have been instrumental in the decision. The lawsuit claims that the agency’s action was taken without the necessary legal authority, proper regulatory hearings or public input.
Just hours before the facility’s debut, details of how normal regulations such as wagering processes would be carried out at Gretna Racing, LLC, and even directory assistance listing information have yet to be revealed.
by: Jim Freer
November 30 2011
Gretna Racing is preparing to open Florida’s first pari-mutuel barrel racing meet on Dec. 1 with 11 races in a head-to-head bracket format.
The Gretna, Fla., facility’s Web site shows that opening day purses will be $2,000. But as of the morning Nov. 30, only limited information was readily available on the types of wagering, procedures for drug testing, names of stewards, and other operations of the controversial Gretna meet that will have 40 racing programs through Jan. 15, 2012.
On Nov. 29, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) was still seeking final clarification on the types of wagering at Gretna.
Two top officials of Gretna Racing did not return phone calls from The Blood-Horse on Nov. 29. On that day, a directory assistance operator could not find any listings for Gretna Racing or several other names associated with the facility.
Meanwhile, two Quarter Horse associations that were unable to prevent Gretna Racing from starting its race meet are moving ahead with a state administrative complaint and plan to file a lawsuit that they hope will invalidate the racing license of Gretna Racing.
The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association likely will file a suit within several days in the Florida court system’s First District Court of Appeal, their Tallahassee-based attorney Michael Barry said on Nov. 29.
Defendants would be the Florida DPMW and its parent Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
On Oct. 19, the Florida DPMW issued Gretna Racing a license under its Quarter Horse permit and Gretna Racing plans to use the license for pari-mutuel barrel racing http. The Augusta, Ga.-based National Barrel Horse Association is not aware of any other pari-mutuel barrel racing in the United States.
In early October, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association sent letters to the Florida DPMW and its parent, asking them to reject Gretna Racing’s application. The two Thoroughbred groups and the two Quarter Horse groups maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under the state’s laws.
However, Gretna Racing’s plan includes having Quarter Horses as the majority of horses in its barrel races and thus meets a state law’s requirement for the breeds that can be used under a Quarter Horse license.
The North Florida Horsemen’s Association, which is not affiliated with the two Florida Quarter Horse associations, has an agreement to provide horses to Gretna Racing.
Florida HBPA president Phil Combest said his association hopes the Florida legislature next year will amend state laws with a more precise definition of Quarter Horse racing.
The Florida HBPA and its allied associations maintain that Gretna Racing is attempting to use barrel racing as a low-cost way to be eligible for a potentially lucrative poker room. All Florida pari-mutuels are eligible to have poker rooms that can be open 365 days a year.
Gretna Racing has applied with the Florida DPMW for a poker license, which can be approved after one racing card.
The Web site for Gretna Racing, also known as Creek Entertainment Gretna, lists poker among its events. The site shows total race purses of $2,000 for its opening day and of either $2,000 or $4,000 for 18 other race cards through Dec.16. On most race days, primarily Fridays through Sundays, Gretna will have race cards at 1 p.m. and at 5 p.m. EST.
Hamilton Downs Horsetrack in Jasper, Fla., is the only other holder of a Quarter Horse racing permit that has applied for a license under which it would hold pari-mutuel barrel racing.
As of Nov. 29, the Florida DPMW was still reviewing the application Hamilton Downs filed on Nov. 4. Hamilton’s application said it plans to begin racing on Dec. 10, 2011.
Gretna is in Gadsden County. On Jan. 31, 2012 there will be a referendum in that county, open to all its voters, on the question of whether Gretna Racing will be able to have a casino with slot machines.
The two Quarter Horse associations are planning their lawsuit following the Florida DPMW’s Nov. 18 dismissal of their request for that agency to reverse its decision on Gretna Racing’s license or seek an administrative hearing on questions of the legality of that license. The Florida DPMW said it determined that the two groups did not establish legal standing or establish material facts needed to comply with various rules for requesting a hearing by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.
The Florida DPMW decision left the Quarter Horse groups with the options of filing an amended appeal or a lawsuit
“We intend to file a lawsuit,” said Barry, a partner in the Tallahassee law firm Rutledge, Ecenia & Purnell.
The suit would contend that the Florida DPMW does not have authority to issue a license under which pari-mutuel barrel racing will be conducted, Barry said. In addition, the suit would contend that the Florida DPMW approved Gretna Racing’s license application in a shorter timeframe than allowed under Florida laws.
In a separate action, the Division of Administrative Hearings has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 13-14 on the two Quarter Horse associations’ contention that the Florida DPMW does not have authority to issue the license it awarded Gretna Racing.
A ruling is likely next January or February. The parties would have the prospect of appealing with a lawsuit in state courts.
In the wake of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s highly questionable flat refusal to even hold a public hearing on administrative petitions asking whether of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” at Gretna Racing LLC is, in fact, legal, the United Florida Horsemen issued the following statement:
“As the Florida Legislature moves inexorably towards the January commencement of the 2012 Session, the gambling landscape across the state has exploded into chaos. Slot machines are breeding rampantly. Millions of dollars are being spent to further the approval of huge destination resorts. And even more insidiously, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has unilaterally approved ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ as a brand new gambling product in Florida by allowing Gretna Racing, LLC to exploit Florida’s lack of a statutory definition of ‘horse racing.’
In doing so, the Division has somehow completely evaded any public scrutiny or accountability by not only denying a fair hearing on the issue, but also by its denial creates further legal roadblocks to revealing how and why it would make such a highly questionable approval. If a law is vague, it should be the Legislature’s role to clarify it, rather than have a regulatory agency take it upon itself to pre-emptively usurp that power. Thus, by creating this new gambling product, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has irresponsibly opened the floodgates to expanded gambling. To make matters worse, in condoning this mockery of the law, the State of Florida is actually killing jobs instead of creating them. ‘Pari-mutuel barrel racing’ is deliberately designed to sharply curtail the number of competing horses and essentially replace them with slot machines. That equals many fewer Florida jobs.
On behalf of nearly 450,000 Florida and national horsemen in eight horsemen’s associations, which include the National Barrel Horse Association and the American Quarter Horse Association, the United Florida Horsemen deplore the Division’s misguided and unfortunate decision to deny our comprehensive petitions against these illegal actions. Without the proper light shed on this dubious action, the outcome will severely impact Florida’s multi-billion dollar horse racing industry. An industry that employs more people and creates more economic impact than any other form of Florida gambling combined.
In fact, were it not for the solid platform of Florida’s successful horse racing industry, upon which our Legislature has always depended for consistent economic development and healthy revenue generation, Floridians would not have ever seen fit to allow other forms of gambling to co-exist. Now that this trust has been broken through the Division’s sanction of Gretna Racing LLC’s clever lawyering and loophole exploitation, Florida is deluged with wanton slot machine and gambling proliferation. And the Legislature will soon find itself nearly powerless to control the monster.”
In a small North Florida town of fewer than 2,000 people, a firestorm is brewing over the future of Florida horse racing and the hundreds of millions of dollars it generates annually.
In mid-October, the Florida Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering granted a license to Gretna Racing to hold a first-of-its-kind pari-mutuel barrel-racing meet.
Gretna is located about 30 miles west of Tallahassee, near the Florida-Georgia border.
Barrel racing has never been a wagering event, but in issuing the license the division noted that the law is not specific as to the manner of racing.
“State law requires that at least 50 percent of the horses used in quarter horse racing be registered quarter horses. The track was issued an operating license to conduct races for its quarter horse permit,” said Sandi Copes Poreda, director of communications for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Quarter horses are the breed typically used in barrel racing, which is traditionally a rodeo event. It is primarily a women’s discipline, with timed runs around a set of barrels.
But Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said a lucrative card room license is behind the barrel racing idea and is a cheap way to satisfy the law.
“This is an end run around the Florida statutes, which are a little vague. It doesn’t define what racing is,” he said.
The first Gretna meet is scheduled to start on Dec. 1. The track must run two meets in consecutive years before it can operate a card room. Gretna will run back-to-back barrel-racing meets extending into January to satisfy the requirement.
Stirling worries that if Gretna’s license stands, other racing venues could implement the same type of racing and jettison more costly traditional racing.
“All of them (tracks) have quarter horse permits except for Calder. There’s nothing that says they can’t switch and keep all the card room and slots money for themselves,” Stirling said. “There is a loophole, and they are trying to drive a truck thorough it. It’s terrible. This could mean the end to a lot of people’s livelihoods.”
Florida racing associations representing thoroughbreds — including the Ocala-based Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association — quarter horses and standardbreds have united to fight the plans. The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association has filed an administrative challenge over the license, and other racing entities are considering legal action.
“Barrel racing has never been a pari-mutuel sport. It was never intended to be a pari-mutuel sport. To say it is, is absurd,” said Phil Matthews, president of the FTBOA board of directors.
Matthews and others spent two days in Tallahassee this week talking to lawmakers about the issue. “They are very upset that this language has been exploited,” Matthews said. “What Gretna is doing is perverting the intent of the law.”
Since Gretna’s approval, another North Florida quarter horse permit holder, Hamilton Downs Horsetrack in Jasper, has applied for a similar license. Jasper is about 90 miles east of Tallahassee, near Valdosta, Ga.
Hamilton Downs is owned by Robert Glenn Richards, who also owns the adjacent Hamilton Jai-Alai & Poker.
But Gretna, which is owned by a partnership between the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians and others with ties to South Florida thoroughbred track Gulfstream Park, has even bigger plans.
In January, Gadsden County voters will decide on a referendum on whether to allow Las Vegas-style slot machines in the county. The referendum will appear on the ballot for the Republican primary on Jan. 31.
Long-term goals for Gretna call for a resort-style casino with hotels, restaurants and an equestrian center.
Both Gretna and Hamilton Downs were granted quarter horse permits in 2008 when the law allowed the operator of a quarter horse meet to operate a card room. That loophole was since closed, but Gretna seemingly found another in using barrel racing in its application for licensing.
On its website, Gretna Racing states that the format will be head-to-head racing between two contestants. The card will feature eight riders who will compete in 11 races in bracket format to determine an ultimate winner. Wagers can be placed on the competitors. Purses will start at $2,000 and eventually come from a percentage of wagering and card room revenue. The percentage of the revenue going toward purses was not specified.
A call to Marc Dunbar, a Gretna partner and lobbyist for Gulfstream, was not immediately returned.
David Romanik and Paul Micucci, both past presidents of Gulfstream, also are partners in the venture.
A representative with the Poarch Creek tribe was not immediately available to comment, but the track’s website touches on the controversy. “We face active opposition from the AQHA and its Florida affiliate, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association. Both of these organizations are asking our regulators to deny us the opportunity to conduct barrel racing as a pari-mutuel event. We adamantly maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is permitted by Florida’s laws and regulations,” according to the site.
The Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering announced it will set a hearing on the administrative challenge, but it could take several months. “It’s a get-rich-quick scheme,” Stirling said. “What makes it worse is that you have people involved in the industry trying to destroy it.”
Several quarter horse permits were issued between 2008 and 2009, including one to South Marion Real Estate Holdings, which has ties to the Iowa-based Isle of Capri Casinos. In 2010, the entity sought and received Marion County permission for a quarter horse track near the Sumter County line. No plans to build have been announced.
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“The Quarter Horse crowd claims that lowly barrel racing is just a cheaper vehicle for Gretna Racing to qualify for poker rooms and slot machines. Of course, the Thoroughbred folks said the same thing about Quarter Horse tracks. They’re both right. Gambling conglomerates, if they could get slots and card rooms and table games, would happily reduce their parimutuels to hermit crab races.”
– columnist Fred Grimm, Miami Herald
The technicality of establishing some sort of parimutuel endeavor in order to legally justify the presence of casino gaming reached a new bend in the road recently when a north Florida county was granted a permit to offer wagering on barrel racing, which would set the stage for an accompanying casino, if approved by referendum next January.
There has been the predictable screeching from other horse interests accusing a certain barrel racing group of allowing themselves to be used by a casino company as a quick and dirty way to get a foot in the door. This would differ, of course, from the slow, stately march toward respectable casinos in places like New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, and Louisiana, where slot machines now drive the engines for all manner of racing breeds.
But why not barrels, too? In the modern climate of slots first, questions later, how can anyone find anything inherently wrong with barrel racing as a betting proposition? They go ’round and ’round real fast and it’s over in a hurry. Sometimes a horse falls down, and sometimes a rider falls off. Sound familiar Thoroughbred fans? The riders even wear bright shirts and big buckles, and they are not as a rule encumbered by such nanny-state niceties as helmets and protective vests.
For the most part, every round of barrel racing is a variation on a very narrow theme – just as six-furlong races at Charles Town in November can start to look a lot alike – but the sport is intimate, and there’s always a chance one of the horses will go to buck-jumping or sunfishing, then tear off for the barn while shedding his rider against the railing of a pipe-pen chute. Who wouldn’t want to bet on that?
It is perfectly understandable that representatives of the Florida Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred industries would be vocally opposed to the broadening parimutuel racing to a discipline more closely associated with the rodeo, just to secure a casino. What next – polo?
In case anyone has failed to notice, however, there persists a nagging but direct relationship between what is sown and what is reaped. Since the “slots as savior” ethic has become pervasive, no one should ever be shocked at what flows from the well.
In granting parimutuel licenses to barrel racing groups, the Florida State Racing and Wagering Board contends it is acting in accordance with legislation that limits the expansion of casino-style gambling to sites that host some kind of horse racing. But as columnist Fred Grimm suggests, the goalposts are portable. If all it takes is a few bucks chucked into a legislator’s campaign fund to push through a bill – think of the jobs, the children, the troops! – the imagination reels at the possibilities for variations on casino enabling parimutuel competition. Could one of these news bulletins be far down the line?
ALBANY, N.Y. – The momentum of the casino-fueled New York Thoroughbred industry has been placed in jeopardy by the looming prospect of legalized betting on pigeon racing.
Pushed by the entrepreneurial avian group Wingnuts, a bill to broadly expand eligibility for a casino gambling license has been adopted by the New York Assembly on a vote of 140-4 (one abstention, three muggings), with the lone restriction that a casino site may not offer any sort of inter-species competition.
“We’re good with that,” said Terry Boyd Malloy, Wingnuts executive director and owner of Coops R Us supplies. “All we want is a chance to go big time with the birds.”
It is estimated that pigeon racing, a time-honored New York pastime, could generate as much as $750 million a year in mutuel handle, according to government estimates, and untold billions from anticipated pigeon-casino-related revenue.
“This will cut the you-know-whats off any gains horse racing has made,” said Tony Mandible, a gaming industry analyst. “Which would you rather clean up after?”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Rampant Development has green-lighted plans for the $385 million Vache de la Mer Gaming project to accommodate the proposed combination slots complex and adjacent parimutuel betting venue in the coastal community of Cape Dismal.
In addition to the 5,000 slot machines earmarked for the project – which pencils out at a rate of 13 machines for every adult Cape Dismal resident – Vache de la Mer also will feature a million gallon “Aquarena” to present what is undoubtedly the nation’s first officially sanctioned program of parimutuel manatee racing.
“It’s more like manatee drifting,” said Baxter Flange, president of the Florida Sea Cowboys Association. “Don’t be looking for nothing like the razzle-dazzle of barrel racing, or bat burning. You can put down a bet on your favorite cow, go out for barbecue, spend an hour at the slots, then come on back and the race is just getting interesting. Anyways, it’s got a place in the local culture. And except for the smell, it’s good family fun.”
Local environmentalist Darcy Pescada led the unsuccessful opposition to the Vache de la Mer permitting process, citing concerns that the racing manatees would not be subject to the same rigorous drug testing programs in place to monitor Florida’s other parimutuel endeavors.
“They’re testing barrel racers, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, greyhounds, flamingos, and alligators,” Pescada complained. “You’re telling me someone wouldn’t try to hop a manatee if they could impact the outcome of a betting race? We’re talking about human nature here.”