“Check Immediately Returned”
In a bizarre move during the week of February 6, 2012, Gretna Racing, LLC (Gretna) owners sent the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FQHBOA) a “breakage” check from its “pari-mutuel barrel racing” operation, even though no agreement of any sort exists between the two organizations to do so.
“Breakage,” commonly known as the amount of money left over after statutory and regulated wagering revenue distributions, would normally be part of monies audited by an independent horsemen’s association such as the FQHBOA and used to properly fund “purses” (prize money) and breeders’ awards according to state and federal law.
Notwithstanding the fact that barrel racing is not Quarter Horse racing, Gretna’s ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ operation has no agreement or affiliation with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA) or the FQHBOA. Therefore, the check was promptly returned to its sender via documented post office mail.
“We find Gretna’s sending of this check to be highly questionable,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, DVM, who serves as FQHRA and FQHBOA President. Concurrently, Gretna’s co-owners are aggressively pursuing litigation against FQHRA and FQHBOA members in what many have characterized as a coordinated effort to eliminate state and federal horsemen’s protections altogether.
The FQHRA and FQHBOA serve as the Florida arm of the 300,000-member American Quarter Horse Association (“AQHA”), which regulates Quarter Horse racing nationwide. Among other substantial duties that include auditing and accounting of accredited Florida Quarter Horse racing purse distributions, the FQHRA and FQHBOA also ensure access to workers’ compensation coverage and liability protection for horsemen, including jockeys. The National Barrel Horse Association regulates barrel horse competitions. Both organizations oppose Gretna Racing’s use of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” as a means of skirting Florida’s live racing requirements for pari-mutuel permitholders to hold 365-day slot machines and poker.
As set forth by the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 and echoed by Florida law, tracks must have an agreement with a horsemen’s organization in order to operate. Horsemen’s associations are independent organizations that represent the contractual interests and associated welfare of the competing horse owners and trainers, along with their respective employees and horses.
Further, the process of auditing tracks’ statutory purse distributions to horsemen is often so tenuous, horsemen’s associations of all breeds, including the FQHRA and FQHBOA, as well as the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA)–Florida’s Thoroughbred horsemen’s association—must employ their own full-time accountants and bookkeepers.
In the unprecedented case of “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” however, Florida regulators allowed Gretna to own its own horsemen’s group, a non-profit known as the “North Florida Horsemen’s Association (NFHA),” which is actually registered with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering as a “non-wagering horse racing” permit.
And because, up until January 27, 2012, the “NFHA” has been controlled by former Gulfstream Park attorney David Romanik and Gulfstream Park lobbyist Marc Dunbar, who co-own Gretna with PCI Gaming, a company owned by an Alabama Indian tribe, Gretna can thereby control distribution of the “breakage” check unilaterally. On January 27, 2012, Romanik’s authority as NFHA Director was transferred to a Board, which includes the City of Gretna’s City Manager, Antonio Jefferson and Florida Association of Mortgage Professionals Director Cindy Gramling. Not surprisingly, the NFHA had “agreed” to allow Gretna Racing to circumvent the Florida statutes in this manner.
“That these wayward funds were so haphazardly handled by Gretna officials effectively illustrates that the unsuspecting ‘North Florida Horsemen’s Association’ members are being kept in the dark about contracts and statutory funds distributions that would normally be subject to auditing by an independent horsemen’s group such as FQHRA and FQHBOA. ” FHBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling explained. “What’s even more disconcerting , Gretna’s wayward ‘breakage’ check was for $727.70, but it reported $917.20 to the State of Florida for the same purpose. Where is the missing money?”
FQHRA and FQHBOA-sanctioned racing at Hialeah Park out-earned Gretna “pari-mutuel barrel racing” by 99.1 percent in a direct comparison. Under the protection of the FQHRA and FQHBOA at Hialeah Park, nearly 1,000 accredited Quarter Horses competed for nearly $4 million in purse money, whereas at Gretna, which underwrote its own purses and handled its own purse auditing and distribution, only a handful of barrel racers and approximately 40 horses of unknown breeds were known to compete for the advertised $38,000 in total prize money.
“It may come as a surprise to many that the FQHRA and FQHBOA once worked with Gretna until it refused to comply with AQHA regulations. But, if this strange communication is Gretna’s way of saying it now wants to abide by AQHA racing code and Florida law, we certainly won’t rule out that possibility,” Dr. Fisch remarked.