The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation will not appeal a month-old ruling in a long-running lawsuit over “pari-mutuel barrel racing” at Gretna Racing, LLC, (“Gretna”) the United Florida Horsemen learned on June 6, 2013.
Since that May 6 ruling, the State of Florida has advised Gretna and Hamilton Downs Jai Alai and Poker, another pari-mutuel permitholder holding similar activities, that both must conduct legitimate horse racing in order to maintain their cardrooms—and possibly slot machines—according to Florida law.
Normally, the market introduction of any new gambling product would be enabled with the passage of legislation, followed by subsequent regulatory hearings in which public input would be provided and considered. With “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” none of that process had occurred, thus spawning the administrative litigation.
“We salute Governor Scott and our pari-mutuel regulators for upholding the integrity of the law toward much-needed clarity in Florida’s pari-mutuel statutes,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, President of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), which prevailed in the case. “We have legions of prominent national horsemen and breeders who have been waiting for a positive outcome so they can set up shop in Florida. After our members drained their hard-earned savings to fight this seemingly endless battle over what was essentially a get-rich-quick scheme, we are hopeful that today’s decision by regulators not to appeal assures Florida’s horsemen that the State really does want to keep and grow its long-held title as a top international horse racing destination.”
Meanwhile, co-owners of Gretna—both prominent pari-mutuel lobbyist-lawyers who concurrently litigated the case as “intervenors” on behalf of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering—filed a notice of appeal earlier this week under a self-owned association name, adding to the turmoil of several still-pending lawsuits directly related to the May 6 “pari-mutuel barrel racing” ruling.
“Each of these yet-to-be-adjudicated spurious lawsuits has been cleverly designed to decimate Florida’s horse racing industry by supporting the premise of phony events that have clearly now been ruled as illegal,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), a statutory statewide organization of Florida Thoroughbred owners and trainers that joined with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) in supporting the FQHRA.
“We are confident that Gretna’s co-owners have no standing to appeal the May 6 ruling,” Stirling added.
But, as the “pari-mutuel barrel racing” case dragged on for nearly two years, yet-existing “Gretna hybrids” and offshoot regulatory schemes devised to capitalize on the “Gretna model” have emerged and remain throughout Florida at various pari-mutuels, and even at leased facilities—all with the intention of sidestepping legitimate, live horse racing.
“Horse racing creates over 104,000 documented annual jobs in Florida, and we, together with the Florida Thoroughbred horsemen and our many partners, including the National Barrel Horse Association, have weathered this spurious litigation to protect them,” said Dr. Fisch. “For each Florida pari-mutuel permit that has been misused during these past few years, thousands of horse racing and breeding jobs and businesses that would have otherwise been created have never had a chance to materialize. It is the horsemen’s hope that, going forward, these permits will be used as the people of Florida intended—to create the kind of positive economic impact that only legitimate horse racing can bring.”
While Gretna’s cardrooms continued to operate, wagering on Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was recorded as low as $24 per day and contests there were often canceled due to lack of interest. Just several months after the initial license was awarded with which “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was conducted, Gadsden County, in which the City of Gretna is located, approved the holding of a referendum to install slot machines at the Gretna Racing facility.