Former Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Milton Champion testified in Florida Administrative Court this week that the licensing of barrel racing as a pari-mutuel event was “a joke” and “an embarrassment” to the State of Florida.
With his testimony on June 27, 2012 marking the fifth day of the final hearing on the issue of whether “pari-mutuel barrel racing” has been allowed as a new gambling product in Florida without enabling legislation, regulatory hearings or public input, Champion recounted how he was dismissed from his Director position for not approving Gretna Racing LLC’s racing license. Gretna Racing subsequently used the license to hold “pari-mutuel barrel racing” instead of the legitimate Quarter Horse racing to which it had initially committed.
(Note: The State of Florida mandates that pari-mutuel permitholders must hold live horse racing in order to operate 365-day cardrooms and slot machines. With the State having unilaterally declared “pari-mutuel barrel racing” as “horse racing,” Gretna Racing secured the ability to operate cardrooms and quickly moved to gain its slot machine license. However, because “pari-mutuel barrel racing” is specifically designed to sharply curtail the need for racehorses and their inherent job creation value, the Florida horse racing and breeding industry’s $2.2 billion statewide economic impact stands to diminish accordingly.)
For the hearing, Gretna Racing co-owners Marc Dunbar and David Romanik are actively litigating as “intervenors” on behalf of Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which granted their North Florida-based pari-mutuel facility the same license in question.
Champion further testified that he was asked to resign after his superior, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Commissioner Ken Lawson was instructed to effect the dismissal by Florida Governor Rick Scott’s now-departed Chief of Staff Steve Macnamara.
The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reported on May 6, 2012: “In an email to MacNamara in August, Marc Dunbar, a lawyer and part-owner of a horse track in Gadsden County, complained about the division’s staff and hoped MacNamara could get them into shape. MacNamara had worked together at Dunbar’s law firm and listed the firm as a source of income on his financial disclosure forms as recently as 2010.
In September, Dunbar and his partners asked the division for permission to run rodeo-style barrel racing as a parimutuel sport, instead of the quarter horse racing they had intended when they obtained the permit. Shortly afterwards, Champion said he was called into Department of Business and Professional Secretary Ken Lawson’s office. “He told me Marc Dunbar is close with the governor’s chief of staff and they want me to resign, so I resigned,’’ Champion said.
Champion now says that while “the law may not be clearly defined,’’ had he remained at the agency he “would have strongly suggested we not approve it.”
MacNamara said Champion was asked to resign because his wife worked at the Seminole Hard Rock as head of surveillance. While the state does not regulate the tribe, it does regulate their competitors. But Champion said he had disclosed his wife’s job when he was hired to head the division five years ago and again when he was reappointed to the post when Scott came to office.
With Champion gone, the division then approved the barrel racing switch, a move which Dunbar and his partners hope will allow the track to get slot machines.”