Based on Phony April 8 “Race,” GPTARP Opens Slot Door Through Summer Jai Alai Permit Argument; The Florida Current’s Gray Rohrer Reports On Administrative Challenge

Flap over summer jai alai permit bleeds into another pari-mutuel loophole fight

Gray Rohrer, 10/29/2012

TheFloridaCurrent.com

State regulators denied a second summer jai alai permit to Flagler Dog Track and Magic City Casino this summer, but now the fight over the little-used loophole that would allow jai alai performances from May through November is spilling over into a separate battle to possibly open the door to more slot machines in Miami-Dade County.

Magic City’s parent company, West Flagler Associates, received a summer jai alai permit this past year, the first in 30 years since an exemption was written into state statutes that would allow a summer permit to the lowest-performing pari-mutuel in a county with at least five jai alai pari-mutuels. The state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering denied West Flagler Associate’s application for a second permit in August, declaring that Hialeah Park had the lowest racing handle of permit-holding pari-mutuels in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Now, Gulfstream Park — a “racino” that offers horserace betting and casino poker games — is challenging in administrative court the Division of Parimutuel Wagering’s declaration. Gulfstream Park’s mailing address is in Hallandale Beach, on the southern end of Broward County, but Gulfstream lawyers argue it operates in Miami-Dade County as well, and should be designated the lowest-handling permit holder there.

The court challenge, however, isn’t designed to get a summer jai alai permit, those attempting to block the move say. West Flagler Associates and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association are attempting to intervene in the case. They contend Gulfstream is really after more slot machines, since Gulfstream would be unable to add slot machines to a facility in Miami-Dade County under its existing permit. However, if Gulfstream uses a state statute that allows a pari-mutuel to transfer its quarter horse permit to a nonprofit organization and then convert it to a limited thoroughbred horse racing permit, it could expand its slots, even at different or future venues in Miami Dade.

Gulfstream was on track to do that, having transferred its quarter horse permit to the nonprofit Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program (GPTARP), but recently withdrew an application to convert it to a limited thoroughbred horse racing permit, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the agency that houses the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Here’s how an FHBPA attorney described the move in a court filing asking for intervenor status. Italics and capitalizations were in the original:

Juliet Capulet once pondered ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ GPTARP, the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program, has revealed itself as anything other than an after racing program for thoroughbred horses. Rather, GPTARP is just a means to an end, and the end is the placement of additional slot machines and other forms of gambling ON THE SAME PROPERTY where Gulfstream Park presently conducts thoroughbred horse racing and operates a racino.”

Marc Dunbar, a Gulfstream Park attorney and pari-mutuel lobbyist, did not return a call for comment Monday.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 10.

 

Ocala Breeders Sales (OBS) Commits to Legitimate Quarter Horse Racing; Meanwhile, Unsuspecting Horseman Reports Being Tricked Into Phony Event, Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty Reports

 

OBS Commits to Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association; South Marion Real Estate Holdings Runs Phony Race, Tricks Horseman

Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company plans Quarter Horse race Dec. 11

By Matt Hegarty
Daily Racing Form
Published October 25, 2012

Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company in Marion County, Fla., plans to run a Quarter Horse race and a Thoroughbred race on Dec. 11 to activate a 25-year-old permit for Quarter Horse racing that would allow the track to pursue a card room or other forms of gambling that might one day be legalized for permit holders, officials of the company confirmed on Thursday.

The sales company’s plan is the latest in a series of efforts by Florida companies to activate permits for Quarter Horse racing to exploit the gambling opportunities afforded to permit holders under a convoluted set of laws and regulations. Under those rules, permit holders are eligible to apply for a license to run card rooms, and many of the principals involved are optimistic that they will be successful in convincing lawmakers to expand those opportunities later to include slot-machine parlors or casinos.

The efforts have concerned officials representing both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses who fear that the companies will use Quarter Horse permits to skirt regulations requiring the distribution of card-room revenues to horsemen. Under Florida law, Thoroughbred permit holders must provide 50 percent of all card-room revenue to purses, but Quarter Horse permit holders do not have any such requirement.

But Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company officials said on Thursday that they would hold the Dec. 11 races only with the sanction of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, said Tom Ventura, the president of the company. Still, OBS is seeking to activate the permit to keep its options open should the Florida legislature authorize additional forms of gambling, Ventura said.

“What lies ahead is still uncertain other than that we wanted to activate the permit, run the races, and leave the door open for anything that might come in the future, whether that’s card rooms or whatever else,” Ventura said.

That goal is also the hope for a variety of other companies – many of which have shared ownership – seeking Quarter Horse permits, which are currently held by 12 entities in Florida, including Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Racing Program. The Gulfstream Park Aftercare group received its permit after running a single Quarter Horse race on April 8 at Gulfstream that was organized by the track and run over the objections of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Including the Gulfstream Park Aftercare group, none of the companies that has activated the permits has contacted the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association about an agreement governing the racing, and they have instead enlisted independent Quarter Horse trainers to provide runners for races that are held under conditions that strain the boundaries of legitimate racing.

For example, last weekend, a company called South Marion Real Estate, under a lease that South Marion reached with OBS to use the sales comapny’s property, held two races on the grounds using horses provided by one Quarter Horse owner-trainer, Marcus Strickland. When Strickland arrived with the horses, organizers of the races said they had to be listed under different trainer names, despite Strickland’s owning and training the horses, Strickland said. Strickland said he was told that his horses were being rented to the program trainers. The races were then run as parimutuel events, which will likely allow South Marion to apply for a Quarter Horse permit.

Strickland said he provided the horses because he was promised by the organizers of the races that they intended to run at least 20 Quarter Horse races at OBS once they received the permit. However, after discussing the situation with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Strickland now says that he has doubts about the group’s intentions of ever running another Quarter Horse race other than the minimum required to activate the permit.

“I don’t know if this was on the up and up or if it was a scam and I got caught in the middle of it,” said Strickland, who received $6,000 for providing the horses. “If I was misled, I may have done more harm than good.”

The races at OBS were organized by Tony Mendola, according to Ventura. Strickland said that the check to pay him for providing the horses was from Bellwhether Properties.

Mendola did not return phone calls to his cell phone on Thursday.

Casino Doctors on “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing”: State of Florida Was Clueless As Gretna, Others Plowed Ahead on Slot Scheme

BETTING ON BARREL RACING IN FLORIDA?

Originally Posted on June 13, 2012

WELCOME TO GRETNA

First time we ever saw barrel racing was in the 60’s at the PIMA County Fair (Arizona) in the desert west of the Tucson city limits.  Several dozen talented, young cow girls atop steeds of considerable agility traversed the barrels from front to back and back to front til one remained clearly the best.  Certainly today’s rodeo fans around the country have enjoyed similar competitions as prelims to the calf roping and bull riding. In fact barrel racing is gaining in popularity and now is considered at some rodeos a main event.

However, NOT ONCE watching barrel racing did it REMOTELY occur that it in the year 2012 it is the center piece for creating a racino.   Sure, there might be a casual wager between cowboys or fans to keep the interest level up. But, that’s not what’s going on in the boondocks of the Sunshine State.  Here’s the deal:

Tiny Gretna,Florida (population 1700), is located in Gadsden County in the Panhandle.  The nearest megalopolis is Quincy (the county seat), and then Bainbridge, Georgia. Gadsden is a traditional democratic stronghold in the long skinny panhandle area that goes bright red since the mid 1960’s.

Gretna is located just a hop skip and jump off  coast to coast interstate 10 at the point in the state where motorists cannot imagine that Florida continues  on much further (it does). It centers the dullest, most boring section of I-10 with continuous forests of sphagnum moss covered oak and pine trees:  no scenery and straight as an arrow. The three hour drive from Bowdenville to Pensacola is a snoozer.  Greater Gretna touches but does not intrude into the Central Time Zone.

By way of background, five years ago a pie in the sky initiative by a private concern (supposedly in tandem with the Miami Dade County Commission and Airport Authority) tried to place slot machines in the airport. Considered mostly folly, it was declared ultimately totally illegal by the State. It was a gargantuan manipulation of the constitutional amendment allowing slots in the Miami area race tracks and frontons.

Shortly thereafter wire services around the state erupted with a story about tiny Gretna, Florida housing a racino in its midst with Barrel racing its center piece.  Of course, since the State Constitution mandates slot machines were only legal in the Miami Dade/Broward County race tracks the chances of Gretna being a bonafide gaming destination was considered totally absurd.  Or was it?

The nearest pari-mutuel facility to Gretna is the dog track in Monticello near Tallahassee, or Panama City. NOTHING IN BETWEEN.

In a state where telemarketers continue to sell underwater lots in the Everglades, and arcades in strip malls feature  “internet” look alike slot machines that pay out in “merchandise”,   the prevailing philosophy “shoot it up the flagpole” continues to produce multiple overnight millionaires.  Scam artists are so numerous that white collar criminals like Scott Rothstein and Bernie Madoff and Nevin Shapiro are revered by lesser operatives who stoop to fleecing  friends, enemies, even relatives.

In that climate little Gretna proudly announced that it would endorse the building, staffing  and operating  a barrel racing arena using quarter horses in competition as a prelim (excuse) to open a full blown poker room and subsequent casino complex.

Six years ago when the Florida  legislature authorized the marriage between horses,dogs,cestas and Wheel of Fortune machines much of the legal language was not specific (in fact ambiguous)  as lobbyists played upon the income from slots to bolster the disastrous education budget of Florida, and social programs to boot. A panacea.  Found money…..

Well, some bright entrepreneurs reasoned that there’s really no difference between Gulfstream Park’s thoroughbred  oval, Hollywood Dog Track greyhound marathon course, the Miami Jai Alai fronton and Hialeah Park’s quarter horse sprints  and competitive barrel racing (17 seconds and a cloud of dust).  The State was clueless. All of the various factions got to arguing with one another while the powers that be in Gretna plowed ahead.

Palm Beach County which was excluded from the law (but a mecca for simulcast and greyhound wagering and poker) started legal suits against the state. Aside from the Disney corridor around Orlando, a variety of factions around the peninsula began sniffing around the viability of casinos or racinos.

Here’s a coinkidink, the “private” concern in the Gretna promotion involves one David Romanik who was the instigator of the failed attempt to get the slot machines into the Miami airport, and subsequently to place a slot parlor in the trendy western suburb, Weston. He was also a past CEO of Gulfstream Park and a savvy lawyer about all things gaming in Florida. In Gretna he had yet another interested partner: The Creek Indians.

The Creek tribe owns and operates successful casinos in Alabama and their historical tribal territory, which, depending upon who you ask extends into the south Georgia/West Florida marketplace.  With Georgia being a state with NO pari-mutuel or casino gaming there’s a vast untapped mass of pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars awaiting a convenient gambling destination.

The hue  and cry against Gretna’s new facility has been swift and deafening:  ranging from the National Barrel Horse Racing Association to the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association to thoroughbred and quarter horse breeders to the usual religious and social entities that automatically dismiss gambling of any kind. All are adamantly opposed. All vocal.

However, definitions of what constitutes a bonafide “race”  in the State of Florida are cloudy at best and with no strong governing body, the door swung wide open for the little town that could. Even the weak, out of step governor looked the other way and kicked the can down to regulatory officials in departments varying from state to agriculture.

On a fairly frequent basis, a couple dozen people, 8 or so horses and riders gather at the Creek Entertainment Gretna facility, which incidentally already houses a fully operational poker room—- as owners campaign to add slots into the mix. The PCI (Poarch Band of the Creek Indians along with Mr. Romanik and his partner and uber lobbyist Marc Dunbar) is building the race track facility and casino, holding job fairs, and generally marching on.  PCI has gone so far as to send a breakage check to the Florida Quarter horse Racing Association with which it has no relationship. The check was returned immediately.

In January 2012  a referendum in Gadsden County was held to determine if the fine citizens of that (rural) county would allow slots/barrel racing etc. in their midst. It passed. This vote, the very essence of which was illegal  by constitutional statute sent all manner of ripples through the industry and government.  State Attorney General Bond and state regulators proclaimed it illegal and horse enthusiasts across the state called it nothing more than a GET RICH QUICK scheme.

All that being said, the orchestration of going from NOTHING to a possible major casino player in two years is breathtaking.  Mssrs. Romanik and Dunbar were able to get the biggest impediment to their scheme capsized by gaining the Governor’s ear and having the recalcitrant chief of the Pari-Mutuel division, Milt Champion, fired before the referendum was in place. From that point forward they railroaded, cajoled, sidestepped, clouded just about every aspect of the issue and, bang zoom, the poker take for the month of April was 232,019.099.

There is no surprise to those of us who’ve inhabited this state of slings and arrows over the years that such a scheme would not only be successful but leave the overall impression that it’s a good thing for the masses (and city, county, state budgets, jobs, equestrian industry bolster etc).  There is also no surprise that a half dozen similar schemes around the state are already in the prep stage and, depending upon how long it takes the legislature and officials to capitulate, should be up and going within a few years.

Thank you Scott and Bernie and all your many, many predecessors for making Florida the land of opportunity (and sunshine).

Controversial Gretna Resumes “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing,” Plans Thoroughbred Simulcasting from Calder Casino Despite Pending Litigation, The Blood Horse’s Jim Freer Reports

Gretna Resumes Racing, Plans Simulcasting

Updated: Saturday, October 13, 2012 9:52 AM
Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012 9:56 AM

Gretna Racing in Gretna, Fla., has resumed its controversial pari-mutuel barrel racing under a Quarter Horse license and it is preparing to start its first simulcast signals that could include Calder Casino & Race Course and other Thoroughbred tracks.

Gretna Racing, located 25 miles west of Tallahassee, held 40 rodeo-like barrel racing performances in December 2011 and January 2012. Research by The Blood-Horse indicates there have been no other recent pari-mutuel barrel racing meets in the United States.

As Gretna Racing begins its new season, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings is preparing to issue a ruling by the end of this November that could determine whether any of the state’s other Quarter Horse license holders could conduct pari-mutuel barrel racing under those licenses.

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association are supporting the case’s plaintiffs, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association. They maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not legal under Florida law.

Because Gretna Racing has completed one pari-mutuel meet, it is eligible under Florida laws to take simulcasts.

On its website, Gretna Racing has a statement that simulcasting is “coming soon” without additional details.

Several employees in Gretna’s poker room, reached by phone, declined to talk about the track’s planned start date for simulcasting and its possible list of signals.

Marc Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney who represents Gretna Racing, did not return phone calls. He is a minority owner of the track’s parent Creek Entertainment Gretna, whose majority owner is the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama.

“Calder plans on sending the signal to Gretna because they qualify under law,” officials of  the Miami Gardens, Fla., track said in a  statement.

If Calder or the Florida HBPA declines to send the track’s signal and its imported signals to Gretna. Calder would also have to stop transmission to most if not all  of the approximately 20 Florida horse tracks, Greyhound tracks and jai-alai frontons that take its signal.

Thus, the Florida HBPA will not use its veto power and prevent Calder from sending its live and imported signals to Gretna, said Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling.

Data from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering indicate the importance of intra-state wagering (ITW) to Calder and  the Florida HBPA, which has  the purse contract with Calder.

Wagering on Calder races totaled $4.4 million at other Florida pari-mutuels during the combined months of July and  August this year.

Those facilities’  total wagering on other Thoroughbred tracks, sent via Calder, was $49.2 million for the combined two months.

That $54 million in  bets was  about 45% of the $119 million in wagers at  Florida pari-mutuels during the two months, according to the Florida DPMW.

Those numbers illustrate the usual scene at many of the state’s Greyhound tracks: The poker room is crowded and it appears through observation that there are as many, if not more, people betting on Thoroughbred simulcasts than on live races.

The Florida HPBA and its allies are concerned that any new  barrel racing tracks would focus on poker and simulcasts and have low racing costs while competing for gaming dollars with Florida’s established racing and breeding industries.

Several Florida counties, including Gadsden where Gretna is located, have approved ballot issues that would permit casinos at their pari-mutuels. There is a widespread view that Florida’s courts and/or its legislature would need to approve any expansion of casinos.

Ruling Pending

The Florida Division of Administrative Hearings finished its hearing on the Gretna case Aug. 23 in Tallahassee. Attorneys who represent the plaintiff Florida Quarter Horse associations said Administrative Judge Cathy Sellers indicated she plans to issue a ruling by Nov. 24.

If Sellers rules in favor of the plaintiffs, she could not revoke Gretna Racing’s licenses or order a halt to racing or poker at the facility.

But she could tell the Florida DPMW and its parent, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to not renew Gretna’s licenses and not issue other licenses for pari-mutuel barrel racing until the overall legality of the activity is reviewed.

A ruling in Gretna Racing’s favor would not require any of those reviews or changes.

When asked about the Gretna case. Calder officials said in a statement: “There are a lot of opinions on barrel racing issues, but Calder does not have comment on supporting Gretna or questioning our state regulator.”

In the administrative court, the Quarter Horse associations maintained that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under Florida laws. However, Gretna Racing had Quarter Horses as the majority of horses in its barrel races and thus met a state law’s requirement for the breeds that can be used under a Quarter Horse license.

This year the Florida legislature did not pass a bill that would have specifically excluded barrel racing from pari-mutuel horse racing. It is anticipated the sponsors will introduce a similar bill for the 2013 session.

In addition to its three Thoroughbred tracks, Florida has Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park and Standardbred racing at Isle Casino & Racing at Pompano Park.

Total wagering on Gretna’s races for 40 cards was $43,514 in 2011-2012, according to the Florida DPMW.

It has scheduled pari-mutuel barrel racing for 10 weekends through June 30, 2013. As of Oct. 11, the Florida DPMW did not have Gretna’s Oct. 5-6 handle numbers readily available.

Gretna Racing’s website has a notice that because of low attendance it has canceled a series of non-wagering “open barrel racing” days.

That  led the Florida HBPA to issue the following comment: “It is the lowest of ironies that Gretna Racing’s card and poker room continues to stay open 365 days a year. This regulatory nightmare has meant the loss of countless Florida jobs and economic impact, not to mention the tax revenue that could have helped our economy if legitimate racing had otherwise been held at Gretna.”

Florida’s 50,000 Employed by Thoroughbred Racing at Crossroads: Miami Herald Business Monday Interview With Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Director Kent Stirling

The Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Oct. 14, 2012
statewide the horse industry still generates an economic impact of about $5.1 billion and nearly half of that comes from racing. At South Florida’s major tracks like Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park there are thousands of people who depend on horses to make their living, from trainers and grooms to blacksmiths and veterinarians.
Above:  Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association at Calder Race Track in Miami Gardens, visits the thorougbred Philourpockets.   (Photo:  Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald Staff)

Keeping track of the horse racing industry

By ELAINE WALKER
ewalker@MiamiHerald.com

Today, it’s the slot machines, more than the races, that draw crowds to the major horse tracks in South Florida.

Yet, statewide the horse industry still generates an economic impact of about $5.1 billion and nearly half of that comes from racing. At South Florida’s major tracks like Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park there are thousands of people who depend on horses to make their living, from trainers and grooms to blacksmiths and veterinarians.

But in many ways the industry sits at a crossroads and the leaders of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are fighting for the livelihood of their members. The trade association represents the 5,500 horse owners and trainers who race in South Florida at both the Calder Casino & Race Course and Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino.

The Miami Herald recently met with Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, to discuss what’s happening in racing today. Then we asked him to respond to our written questions. Here’s an edited version of what he had to say:

Q: How did you get involved in the horse and pari-mutuel industry?

I grew up on a farm and both of my parents and my sister were talented show horse riders. I didn’t much care for jumping show horses, so when I was 16 I went to old Randall Park in Cleveland and worked as a hot walker for thoroughbred race horse trainer Jerry Caruso. By the time I went into the Air Force, I had spent a few more summers working with racehorses when home from college. After four years of sitting behind a desk in the U.S. Air Force, I knew I wanted to work outside. Since I love animals, becoming a thoroughbred horse trainer. It seemed like the perfect job.

Q: How many people are currently employed by the thoroughbred industry?

Somewhere in excess of 50,000 people are employed in Florida’s thoroughbred racing industry.

Q: Are most people in the industry still making money today? Why or why not?

Each year fewer and fewer owners and trainers in Florida are making a profit. I would guess that very few of the owners and trainers that race year-round in Florida are making any money. Of the trainers stabled year ‘round in Florida at Calder, I would estimate that 90 percent of them are broke or headed in that direction. This is because the purses at Calder have not increased in the last 10 years. Since Calder doesn’t do much in the way of advertising their racing, the pari-mutuel handle declines every year and the revenue from slots earmarked for purses barely covers the loss from the shrinking revenue from declining wagering on racing. I know you are questioning my stating that 90 percent of the trainers at Calder are broke or going broke, because you are wondering why would they remain in the industry under such circumstances? The fact is, this sport really is a labor of love. These people believe that the “big” horse who will turn rags into riches is just around the corner, if you hang in there for one more year.

Q: Do you see the horse industry currently at a crossroads? Why?

I think the worst thing that has happened to racing in my lifetime is the acquisition of tracks by large companies like Churchill Downs (CDI), Penn Gaming and the privately owned Stronach Group (formerly Magna Entertainment). These groups are focused entirely on their bottom line to keep their stockholders happy. All of these corporations used racing and the strong efforts and financial contributions of their horsemen to legally acquire different forms of alternative gaming such as slots. But within a few years of being permitted to hold alternative gaming, these tracks began working on ways to keep these newfound gaming revenues for themselves. This meant casting off the horsemen, their “partners.”

Q: What kind of economic impact does the horse industry have on South Florida and Florida today?

The horse racing industry has a $2.2 billion annual statewide economic impact, but that is boosted especially in South Florida during the winter months when Gulfstream conducts by far the best racing in the winter in North America. Numerous Kentucky Derby winners and other Triple Crown race winners begin their careers at Gulfstream Park and these horses attract many “snowbirds” to South Florida. The Ocala area still boasts one of the major horse breeding centers in North America, but it is slowly shrinking as other states offer better year-round racing with higher purses than Florida.

Q: How much demand / interest still exists today among consumers in South Florida and Florida for horse racing?

Gulfstream still creates very strong interest in racing, because they hold excellent racing and promote it substantially. Calder has always been the “two-year-old capital” of North America, but with stagnant purses and no marketing of their product, they are losing many of their two-year-olds to northern tracks. There still exists a significant demand and interest in Florida-bred horses, because they win some of the country’s most prestigious races and continue to outrun their pedigrees.

Q: Who are your target customers and how often do they visit?

Our target customer at Gulfstream Park is in the 30-to-50 age range. Racing in general seems to have lost a generation or two of fans when most tracks’ philosophy was pretty much “open our doors and they will come.” Well, “they” didn’t come, and other sports and forms of entertainment advertised and used new mediums such as television, which racing ignored for years.. It’s really tough, even for Gulfstream, to draw people to wager on weekdays when times are hard as they are today. Unfortunately, by Florida law, thoroughbred horse racing can’t run races at night.

Q: What do you think has caused the drop in consumer interest?

Consumer interest began dropping about 50 years ago — a time when thoroughbred racing was the number-one attended sport in North America. That’s right, racing drew more attendance than either Major League Baseball, college football or the NFL. Racing was the only sport that could be legally wagered on, and this “monopoly” led to the “open our doors and they will come” philosophy as racing mistakenly eschewed spending money to have its product on television.

Q: How have slots helped or hurt the horse racing industry?

Slots have helped racing, in that they have increased purses at Gulfstream and kept purses from dropping at Calder. They have hurt the industry, because what “partnership” we horsemen had with the tracks has been or is seemingly being corrupted by their corporate bottom line.

Q: How is online betting impacting your business?

On-line betting (ADW), has pretty much destroyed our on-track business by making it easier and more profitable (via rebates) for fans to wager without coming to the tracks. Since the two tracks in question each have their own ADW company, they cannibalize our on-track business. Where before, horsemen would get 10 cents on every dollar wagered on track, they now settle for 3 or 4 cents on the dollar when the bets are placed through a track-owned ADW.

Q: What would happen to the horse racing industry if legislation were passed allowing destination casinos?

Obviously destination casinos would not help our industry, inasmuch as they would have more and better alternative gaming to offer than our tracks. They would have a giant profit margin and economic advantage, because they would most likely be required to pay nothing to purses as our tracks are currently required to do from slot revenues. Gulfstream would like to be a destination casino, but I am not convinced that would be as helpful to racing as some might think.

Q: We know you are supporting litigation to put an end to barrel racing currently taking place in Gretna, a small town in North Florida. How is this form of racing threatening the livelihood of your industry?

The “Gretna Model” purposefully eliminates the need for thousands of horses and denies the horsemen’s rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which mandates that horsemen must consent to the track’s simulcast signal being sent across state lines for wagering purposes. Here is how it could threaten our industry: Gulfstream Park has a quarter horse permit, with which they conduct unsanctioned “flag drops,” or “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” using only two horses per day. Then they build a large, beautiful slots facility and connect it to the arena. Now they don’t need to pay thoroughbred purses. .Track-owned “barrel racers” have displayed in Gretna that they are happy with $2,000 a day divided up over 8 races. To compare, Gulfstream currently pays daily purses of well over $400,000 to the thoroughbreds. Q: Explain how thoroughbred and quarter horse racing are different than what’s happening at Gretna and other tracks with “pari-mutuel barrel racing?”

Thoroughbreds and quarter horses are two distinct breeds that each have their own industry in the U.S. Quarter horses typically run shorter races … about a quarter of a mile. is somewhat typical. Thoroughbreds basically race from five-eighths of a mile to a mile and a quarter. Both industries need about 1,500 or more horses to conduct a normal race meet, with every three or four horses requiring at least two or three people to care directly for them. Plus, both industries have large breeding industries in Florida that employ even more people than at the races.

Q: What kind of industry job loss are you looking at in South Florida and the entire state if “pari-mutuel barrel racing” is allowed?

If “pari-mutuel barrel racing” and similar unsanctioned events are legally upheld, legitimate racing will die almost immediately, since track owners will no longer be obligated to have events requiring the traditional volume of horses. The owners and trainers will move to other states with higher purses almost immediately. All the breeding farms in Ocala will close down and their breeding operations will then move to another state. Similar circumstances with unregulated gambling are already causing a mass exodus of the horse racing industry in Texas as we speak.

Q: What’s your favorite horse track in the country and why?

People that know me will be shocked, as will John Brunetti Sr., but my favorite track in America was, and still probably is Hialeah Park. It was once the most beautiful track in the world and I had my greatest successes there, as one of my horses won the Grade 1 Hialeah Turf Cup twice.


© 2012 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.miamiherald.com

Phony Horse Races Are Florida’s Newest Gold Rush, Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty Reports On GPTARP, Others

Florida racetracks’ new fad? Quarter Horse meets

By Matt Hegarty, Daily Racing Form

10/11/2012 12:44PM

Two Quarter Horses lined up near the top of the stretch for the 11th and last race April 8 at Gulfstream Park. A racetrack employee held a flag in his upraised hand, brought the flag down, and the horses were off. When the horses crossed the finish line 220 yards later, Gulfstream Park had officially held a Quarter Horse meet under Florida law, qualifying a subsidiary of the track for a Quarter Horse permit by the state’s racing commission.

Gulfstream’s effort to secure its Quarter Horse permit – which was awarded to the track’s retirement-care subsidiary, Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program – is part of a gold rush by companies seeking to obtain Florida racing licenses to exploit the gambling opportunities afforded to permit holders. Under state law, permit holders in most counties in Florida can operate poker rooms. The belief that the Florida legislature will soon expand the gambling opportunities available to permit holders has led 12 companies to file for Quarter Horse permits in Florida in the last two years, including several filings for parimutuel barrel racing.

The flurry of permit applications has unnerved the state’s Thoroughbred horsemen and breeders, who contend the jockeying for permits is an effort to cut horsemen out of shares of revenue from casino-type games.

Under Florida law, there are two requirements for sharing revenue from card rooms with horsemen. Any Thoroughbred or harness track that operates a card room must evenly share card room net income with horsemen and breeders. But Quarter Horse permit holders have no such requirement. All that is required is a purse agreement with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association or “the association representing a majority of the horse owners and trainers” at the track.

Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida QHRA, said Tuesday that none of the Quarter Horse racing permit holders has ever contacted him to discuss a purse agreement. Instead, some permit holders, including Gretna Racing in north Florida, have reached agreements with local organizations representing barrel racers, which does not fit under the Florida QHRA’s definition of racing, disqualifying the Florida QHRA from representing the interests of the runners at some tracks.

“The attempts to open Quarter Horse permitted tracks without using true sanctioned Quarter Horse racing is exactly what it looks like,” Fisch said. “And that’s to open a card room or a casino without any true commitment to racing.”

Through Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program, Gulfstream began seeking a Quarter Horse racing permit late last year. The track contended that it ran a race qualifying for a Quarter Horse permit Dec. 31 – using Thoroughbred horses – and the next day, it canceled a Quarter Horse race on the overnight. Then came the April 8 match race using barrel-racing riders, which was run over the objections of horsemen. The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s decision to issue the Quarter Horse permit to Gulfstream’s After Racing Program based on those races has led to a formal objection by the FHBPA.

Officials of the FHBPA declined to comment specifically about the issue, citing ongoing purse negotiations with Gulfstream. The horsemen’s contract with Gulfstream expires Dec. 31.

“We’re obviously not happy about it,” said Kent Stirling, the executive director of the FHBPA.

Timothy Ritvo, president of Gulfstream Park, said Gulfstream’s only intention in running the races was to secure the racing permit out of fears that the legislature would disallow additional permits sometime during the 2012 legislative session. The advice came from Marc Dunbar, Gulfstream’s lobbyist, who has been advising most of the other companies seeking Quarter Horse permits, including the barrel-racing facilities. Dunbar did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Ritvo called the effort to secure the permit “a strategic move by us so that if destination casinos come we could get a place up.” In Broward County, where Gulfstream is situated, parimutuel facilities can also operate slot machines, which are far more lucrative than card rooms. Gulfstream already operates a casino at its Hallandale Beach property, under its own racing permit, which allows it 2,000 slot machines.

Ritvo said that if Gulfstream pursued another casino, it would cut horsemen in on a share of the revenue. He said Gulfstream’s owner, the auto-parts manufacturer and owner-breeder Frank Stronach, has a commitment to live Thoroughbred racing.

“But it’s easy to see why they’re having trouble trusting out,” Ritvo said. “The horsemen are concerned that someday barrel racing will substitute for Thoroughbred racing, and our lobbyists have pursued a barrel-racing license in Gretna. Frank is a free-enterprise guy, so he wasn’t going to stand in the way of that, something that doesn’t affect us way up there.”

Citing “Low Attendance,” Gretna Racing Cancels “Open Barrel Racing;” Poker and Cardrooms Allowed to Continue, While Slots Loom

Resultant horse racing industry job loss continues as pari-mutuels leverage “Gretna Model” to bypass Florida’s live racing requirements for slot machines

Opening for “pari-mutuel barrel racing” once again today, October 5, 2012, despite an imminent court ruling on the legality of its racing license, Creek Entertainment Gretna concurrently announced on its Web site that its remaining “open races” for 2012 have been canceled “due to low attendance.”

The North Florida gaming entity was awarded the spurious license by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering nearly one year to date, allowing it to conduct the brand new gambling product of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” without enabling legislation, regulatory hearings or public input.

“It is the lowest of ironies that Gretna Racing’s card and poker room continues to stay open 365 days a year,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents over 6,000 Florida Thoroughbred horsemen.

“This regulatory nightmare has meant the loss of countless Florida jobs and economic impact, not to mention the tax revenue that could have helped our economy if legitimate racing had otherwise been held at Gretna,” Stirling continued.  “Even worse, hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds have been expended by the State of Florida to defend Gretna’s questionable license award.”

“Because the spurious ‘Gretna Model’ has been allowed to continue by Florida’s Legislature and pari-mutuel regulators, permitholders across the state are lining up to bastardize legitimate racing and capitalize on its fundamental platform of side-stepping Florida’s legal requirements for live racing in order to have slot machines,” FHBPA President Phil Combest explained.  “This includes every single Quarter Horse permitholder except Hialeah Park, the only place at which legitimate Quarter Horse racing is being held in Florida.”

“Pari-mutuel barrel racing” has failed so badly, that wagering handles as low as $24 per day have been recorded.  Because Florida does not legally define what a “horse race” is, regulators allowed Gretna to proceed, without regard for its impact on Florida’s $2.2 billion dollar horse racing industry and the 50,000 jobs it creates annually.

Meanwhile, legitimate Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park, the only Florida racing legally accredited by the American Quarter Horse Association for its high standards, averaged 4,100 daily attendees and handled an average of $200,000 for each day of its 2011-2012 race meet.  Because of Hialeah Park’s success, purses for legitimate Quarter Horse have risen to an all-time Florida high of over $4 million dollars for 2012-2013.

Nearly 1,000 horses were housed at Hialeah during its Quarter Horse meet.  In contrast, at Gretna, the entire 2011-2012 season used approximately 50 horses—thus eliminating the many of the jobs that would have otherwise been generated there and in the local horse breeding industry.

At least 800 documented licensed personnel are employed at the Hialeah meet, while Gretna has a comparable 38 documented licensees.