Illegal Quarter Horse Racing Planned by Gretna Racing Co-Owner David Romanik for Florida City Slot Venture; the Miami Herald’s Elaine Walker Reports Jai Alai, Quarter Horse Pari-Mutuel Permits Behind Keys Gateway Gambling Expansion

 Note:  For background information on David Romanik’s Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings, click here.

The Miami Herald

Posted on Mon, Aug. 27, 2012
Florida City could get jai-alai or horse racing, plus a casino

By ELAINE WALKER
ewalker@MiamiHerald.com
Hungry for economic development and jobs, Florida City is ready to embrace parimutuel gambling.

That could come in the form of a quarter horse racetrack, jai-alai fronton — or both — located adjacent to the Florida Keys Outlet Center. Either format would carry a license for the ultimate goal: a casino with a poker room and slot machines just east of Florida’s Turnpike that could draw both residents and tourists passing through the South Miami-Dade city on the way to the Florida Keys.

“It’s another piece in trying to recover the economy in this area,” Mayor Otis Wallace said. “It will present another revenue resource for the city. In these tough economic times, it’s important to look at other sources other than taxing people to death.”

The initiative is another sign of the gambling industry’s determination to expand. Despite the state Legislature’s denial last spring of full-scale destination gambling, some industry players are exploiting loopholes in state law to expand parimutuel betting.

If the Florida City effort succeeds, it will have plenty of company. Miami-Dade and Broward counties are already home to a half-dozen parimutuel facilities that operate slots and card rooms in addition to wagering on parimutuel sports; two more existing parimutuels in the region are eligible for slots. And that doesn’t include the four tribal casino facilities in the two counties.

Behind the plans for Florida City is Ocala gambling attorney David Romanik, the former general counsel of Gulfstream Park. In 2010, the state turned down an application for a quarter horse racing permit in Florida City by Romanik’s company, Fort Myers Real Estate Holdings. While that fight remains in litigation, Romanik acknowledged that applying for a jai-alai fronton could be his next move.

“Should the quarter horse [effort] fail, or if it’s going to take too long, I’m going to shift over to a different type of permit for that property,” Romanik said.

But industry experts say when it comes to economics, neither the racetrack nor the jai-alai fronton are going to drive business.

“The only reason to have the license is to have the ability to open a casino or slots,” said Brian McGill, an analyst who follows the gambling industry for Janney Capital Markets. “The key is you do everything possible to minimize your costs on the parimutuel side and focus on maximizing the revenue through slots.”

Florida City began clearing the way for gambling this summer, when the City Commission agreed to rezone nearly 25 acres at the southwest corner of Southwest 172nd Avenue and Southwest 336th Street. The commission created a new land-use category for gambling. The rezoning came at the request of property owner Fort Myers Real Estate Holdings, which purchased the two parcels of land in 2010 and 2011 for $6.5 million.

Wallace says he didn’t like the Internet gambling that was popping up in convenience stores around his city. He didn’t want to outlaw gambling, but he felt it was important for the city to control where any facilities would be located.

His solution: Create a designated place for gambling far enough away from schools and homes.Preliminary plans presented to Florida City by Romanik’s group in June call for a 30,000-square-foot building to house the jai-alai fronton, as well as the card room and video gambling machines. The mayor said it might open as soon as next year. A second phase could come later with a quarter horse track.

Florida City officials were told that the project would create between 150 and 200 jobs during construction. The card room and jai-alai fronton would yield between 75 and 100 jobs, with another 30 jobs in a video game arcade, Wallace said. Romanik’s group told city officials the facility would be assessed at about $15 million after the initial construction.
Wallace is waiting for Romanik’s group to request site plan approval after it secures the appropriate permit.

“The ball is in their court to come back to us with a plan of what they want to do,” Wallace said. “We’re expecting to see a site plan in the next month or two.”

Romanik last week declined to discuss details of his Florida City plan but said he remains confident of the region’s potential to support gambling.

“I think it’s a great location,” he said. “There are two million people driving by there every year on their way to the Keys. It’s an activity that people in that area have shown they would enjoy.”

One relatively swift path to a parimutuel license would be a partnership with an operator holding an unused permit. At least a half dozen have been issued but are not yet active, according to state records and industry sources.

Among those are recently issued “summer’’ jai-alai permits that Magic City Casino lawyers and others have obtained based on a loophole in a 1980 state gambling law. The provision allowed the facility with the lowest annual volume of bets to seek an additional jai-alai permit for use during summer months. Such permits can be used to construct a jai-alai fronton and poker room anywhere in the county in which it is issued.

“Dave Romanik has spoken to anybody and everybody with a permit,” said Isadore Havenick, vice president of government affairs for Magic City Casino in Miami, which has two unused jai-alai permits. “There are a lot more permits in Miami-Dade and Broward than there are facilities.”

Havenick says while his family has considered partnering with Romanik in Florida City, they don’t expect to make any commitments in the near future.

“He’s not the only person we’re talking to,” Havenick said. “But we’re really waiting to see what’s going to happen in the Legislature.”

If Romanik continues his efforts to secure a quarter horse permit for Florida City, he will face opposition from leading horse industry groups.

The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and others are fighting the state’s decision to issue a permit for barrel racing to Gretna Racing, a company in which Romanik is a partner. The horse-racing industry argues that barrel racing is not a parimutuel sport.
Horse-racing leaders fear that Romanik is trying to bring the Gretna model to Florida City, which dramatically cuts both the costs and payouts associated with racing.

“This is just a get-rich-quick scheme,” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “It could lead to the downfall of the thoroughbred industry. We’re fighting this tooth and nail because it’s our future.”
© 2012 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.miamiherald.com

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/24/v-print/2971208/florida-city-could-get-jai-alai.html#storylink=cpy

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Florida “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Hearing Case No: 11-005796RU Reconvenes for Third Time on August 22-23, 2012 in Tallahassee

Litigation Now at Nine-Month Mark

American Quarter Horse Association: “Pari-mutuel barrel racing” is NOT legitimate Quarter Horse racing

Litigation over the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s 2011 unilateral license award for Greta Racing LLC to conduct “pari-mutuel barrel racing” as a new form of gambling without enabling legislation, regulatory hearings or public input will continue this Wednesday, August 22 through August 23, 2012 at the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee.

This third (3rd) continuation marks the ninth (9th) month and what will amount to nine (9) days of testimony in Case No: 11-005796RU, in which Gretna Racing LLC co-owners Marc Dunbar and David Romanik are actively litigating as “intervenors” on behalf of Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering—the same regulating entity that granted their North Florida-based pari-mutuel facility the license in question.

Along with Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering officials, among those who have testified in the trial have been former Thoroughbred racetrack Gulfstream Park CEO Doug Donn and the American Quarter Horse Racing Association’s Executive Director of Racing Trey Buck.  The American Quarter Horse Association has refused to sanction “pari-mutuel barrel racing” as legitimate Quarter Horse racing.

Even though Florida law requires pari-mutuels to hold live horse racing in order to operate 365-day cardrooms and slot machines, Gretna Racing LLC has continued to operate cardrooms and pursue its slot machine license despite the controversy and ensuing litigation over the legitimacy of its racing license award.

During the June 2012 proceedings, former Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Milton Champion testified in Florida Administrative Court that the licensing of barrel racing as a pari-mutuel event was “a joke” and “an embarrassment” to the State of Florida.  Champion recounted how he was dismissed from his Director position for not approving “pari-mutuel barrel racing.” 

Champion further testified that he was asked to resign after his superior, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson was instructed to effect the dismissal by Florida Governor Rick Scott’s now-departed Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara.

“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,” explained Kent Stirling, Executive Director of Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents over 6,000 Thoroughbred horsemen who race in Florida.

To access the entire case history and docket, or view related litigation, go to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings Web site or click here

For further information, please contact Kent Stirling at the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association at (305) 625-4591, or visit our blog at www.FloridaHorsemen.com.

Gretna “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Co-Owner David Romanik Expects to Open Jai Alai, Casino In Florida City “Gateway to the Keys”

Romanik Wants to Open Jai Alai; Casino in 2013

By Julie Schaffter   Mon, Aug 13, 2012

South Dade News Leader

Romanik estimated that the time frame for the casino to be built would likely stretch into 2013, if all goes well.

With news of a casino and Jai Alai fronton coming to Florida City, many residents are curious about the circumstances surrounding its approval.

Mayor Otis Wallace and the commissioners have backed the idea since its first proposal on the agenda, and having maintained the stance that it is better to welcome the opportunity for local jobs than scorn a business simply because of its nature.

Due to a myriad of chance-based electronic games popping up all over the surrounding community, mostly in convenience stores, the commissioners and mayor have decided to place restrictions that will control the spread.

David S. Romanik, an attorney in the Gaming and Entertainment Law Group, has expressed ample excitement over bringing a casino to Florida City.

“It was the distance away from many of the competitors,” Romanik stated when asked why Florida City had been chosen for the site of the adult arcade. “It’s the gateway to the Keys. Two million people pass by every year.”

One of the greatest factors was having “a city government that supported us.”

Romanik estimated that the time frame for the casino to be built would likely stretch into 2013, if all goes well.

“We’re shooting for next year,” he said, “Unfortunately, in the world of gaming in the state of Florida we’re constantly in a state of flux. I don’t know what the legislature is going to do when they meet again.”

Constantly divided by opposing views on the legality and profit of gambling, Florida has no definitive laws, and thus the process to gain approvals often becomes a game of waiting and, ironically, chance.

“On the grand scale of things, it’s looking pretty good right now,” Romanik said, maintaining optimism.

As with any new business, the potential for local job openings has captured the attention of many residents. When questioned on whether or not they planned on hiring local contractors to assist with the building, Romanik answered with a promising ‘yes’.

“The city requires it and we give locals a fair shot,” he said, “I’m looking for mostly local people to be employees once we open up, too.”

Between the poker rooms and the Jai Alai (a sport involving a ball bounced off a walled space and played with curved device known as a ‘xistera’ attached to the player’s hand), Romanik estimates between 100 and 150 jobs will be added.

“Once we get some kind of machine game in there,” he added, “then that number will double or triple.”

Also projected for future additions is a hotel, which will bring even more jobs to Florida City. Romanik remained ever-hopeful, “The hotel is going to be more tied to the slot machines. There’s a need for there to be organized lodging in the section with the activities; which I’m kind of hoping it will be, because I think it will be a good place for people to stop off on their way to the Keys, go down, spend the day, and then come back and party.”

Surprisingly, to some, and not-so surprisingly to others, the addition of a casino has not elicited any negative feedback from the community.

“The community has been great,” he said. “I think they’re looking forward to the jobs, looking forward to the activities and getting Florida City on the map; they’re really looking forward to that. The mayor and the planning department have been great, I think that they’ve been very supportive.”

Reasons for this may also include the “pretty good deal, as far as their participation and the revenues the casino is going to generate.”

With any luck, construction will begin soon, and Florida City will boast a brand new casino and Jai Alai court come 2013. All the jobs to be generated, in addition to the revenue collected by the city will hopefully have a positive effect not only on the community, but the economy as well.

New business is good business, and the chance for a steady job – and maybe even a bit of fun – is nothing to turn up one’s nose at.