In Bizarre Move, Gretna “Pari-Mutu​el Barrel Racing” Owner Sends “Breakage” Check to Florida Quarter Horse Organizati​on . . . Even Though No Agreement To Do So Exists Between Them

“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.

Read:  Gretna’s Agreement With Itself

“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.


Just One Month Before Issuing Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing License, Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Lost Hefty Attorneys’ Fees Court Battle With Gretna Racing Owners

Above: Gretna Racing LLC Owners David Romanik (left) and Marc Dunbar (right)

Just one month before awarding Gretna Racing LLC the highly questionable license with which it perpetrated “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering had lost a complex protracted litigation battle with Gretna Racing owners David Romanik and Marc Dunbar over the lawyer/lobbyists’ petition for the award of attorneys’ fees in a case involving the Division’s denial of a Quarter Horse permit to “Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings.”  (This company later became “South Marion Real Estate Holdings,” while a company by the name of Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings is now controlled by Romanik.  South Marion Real Estate Holdings is controlled by Michael Goldstein, a longtime Romanik associate and grandson of an official at Pompano Park racetrack who formerly controlled Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings.)

To view the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings September 15, 2011 Final Order in Case 11-001722FC, click here.  To view the entire docket, click here.

Demanding to be reimbursed as much as $360,831 from taxpayer coffers for their time in litigating the Division’s Ft. Myers Quarter Horse permit denial, Romanik and Dunbar even supplied experts who testified that a multiplier should be used to make the Division “’pay dearly,’ i.e., as punishment . . .” for what they termed “a gross abuse of the agency’s discretion.”

The request was enabled by the First District Court of Appeal, which said the Division’s later related actions were “so contrary to the fundamental principles of administrative law” that Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings was entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees.

But, in reviewing the timesheets and other documentation submitted by Romanik, Dunbar and two other affiliated attorneys, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings found “obvious flaws and less obvious insufficiencies” and “a large amount of duplication . . . which exceeds a tolerable degree.”

“Regardless of how Mr. Romanik’s hours are characterized, they were excessive and duplicative,” stated Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth McArthur, who ultimately reduced Romanik and Dunbar’s requested hourly fee from $450 to $325 and $300, respectively.  She further determined that the circumstances of this case did not warrant that the Division be “punished.”  In fact, the Division’s denial had been because of a new law, under which Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings permit could no longer qualify for the Quarter Horse racing permit for which it had applied.

It was ultimately revealed that, should Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings have actually commenced gaming operations, Romanik would have been paid $5 million, in addition to “any and all court fees that may be awarded.”  Dunbar’s law firm, Pennington et al, was to be a subcontractor in the deal.

South Marion Real Estate holdings, along with Pompano Park, are among six pari-mutuel entities that are currently awaiting the results of Quarter Horse license applications with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.  None currently hold agreements with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, the State’s statutorily recognized horsemen’s association.

In 2011, Romanik and Dunbar launched a spurious smokescreen lawsuit against the statutory Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, while the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation continues to mount aggressive taxpayer-funded litigation against the same organization in defense of its unilateral Gretna Racing license award, which was done with no enabling legislation or regulatory hearings.

Gretna Racing’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” is enabled by the “North Florida Horsemen’s Association,” which is controlled and owned by Romanik and Dunbar.  State and federal law mandates that tracks must have agreements with lawful horsemen’s associations in order to ensure the proper distribution of funds derived from wagering revenue.  Aside from Gretna Racing, no other pari-mutuel currently actively owns and controls its own horsemen’s association.

Recently, in the face of mounting statewide disapproval, Hamilton Downs Jai Alai, which had applied for a “pari-mutuel barrel racing” license based on the Gretna Racing model, withdrew its application for racing dates.

Quote from United Florida Horsemen on today’s Gadsden County slot referendum (1/31): The people of Gadsden County and the City of Gretna are being cheated out of exponentially more jobs and long-term economic development they could have had if Gretna Racing LLC were holding legitimate Quarter Horse racing instead

Quote from United Florida Horsemen on today’s Gadsden County slot referendum (1/31):
“Notwithstanding the fact that the Gadsden County Slot referendum was held based the unlawful premise of “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” the travesty is that, regardless, of tonight’s outcome, the people of Gadsden County and the City of Gretna are being cheated out of exponentially more jobs and long-term economic development they could have had if Gretna Racing LLC were holding legitimate Quarter Horse racing instead.   For those who doubt that fact, the truth is now in the numbers:  Real Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park has out-earned and outperformed Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” by over 99 percent—all with no cardrooms, slots or bailout from the taxpayers of Florida.   As for job creation?  Hialeah has over 800 employees who received their pari-mutuel license at the facility.  Gretna has only 38.   Proof that real jobs created by real horse racing are something slot machines can never replace.”
For more information, contact:
Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association:   Kent Stirling (305) 628-2989 or
Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association & Florida Quarter Horse Breeders’ and Owners’ Association: Dr. Steve Fisch, DVM (850) 510-9650 or