Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Action on Gretna Racing Slot Machine Ruling Cheered by Florida’s Thoroughbred Racehorse Owners and Trainers

In response to the news that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has requested a full-court rehearing of a recent ruling allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC, Florida’s Thoroughbred racehorse owners and trainers agreed that, without such intervention, the result of allowing the earlier decision to stand would indeed be a “jaw-dropping gambling expansion.”

Representing more than 6,000 horsemen statewide, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President Bill White reminded that, during the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.   Other pari-mutuel permit holders followed suit, basing their actions on various convolutions of horse-related events designed as work-arounds to Florida law, which requires two years worth of live horse racing as a prerequisite to licensing for card rooms or slot machines.

In 2013, it was adjudicated that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input.

The most recent developments in the Gretna Racing matter have led horsemen to question whether a slot license legally can, or should be granted to the North Florida pari-mutuel permitholder, or any similar permitholder that has used horse-related events in a manner that has precluded the creation of jobs, businesses and positive economic benefit that would normally come with accredited horse racing and breeding operations.

The FHBPA and its colleagues, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, have strongly objected to the use of questionable horse-related events like “flag dropping” and “pari-mutuel barrel racing” in lieu of horse racing–heretofore unheard-of events that have been allowed to serve as the pari-mutuel basis for licensing of 365-day cardrooms, simulcasting or efforts to secure slot machines.

“If accredited horse racing would have been required in these locations, their local communities could have created far more jobs, businesses and economic impact,” White explained.  “For this reason, we urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing American Quarter Horse racing industry.”

“This is a good opportunity to remind our policymakers  that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits,” White noted.

For Now, “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Qualifies Gretna Racing LLC For Slots

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA’s Dara Kam reported on May 29, 2015:   “In what could be a game changer in Florida’s gambling arena, an appeals court today ordered state regulators to allow slot machines at a Gadsden County racetrack . . . “

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is disappointed that the First District Court of Appeal ruled on May 29, 2015 in favor of allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC.  We are hopeful that the Florida Attorney General will continue in her efforts.

During the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.

Given that three court rulings have held that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input, the FHBPA strongly questions whether a slot license legally can, or or should be granted to Gretna Racing LLC, or any similar permit that has used horse-related events in a manner afoul of the “pari-mutuel barrel racing” court rulings.

Further, for every pari-mutuel permit that has since been used in this manner to gain a 365-day per year card room, slot referendum or otherwise, there have been thousands of Florida horsemen’s jobs lost that would otherwise have been created if accredited and legitimate horse racing would have been required in these locations.

We urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing Quarter Horse racing industry.

This is a good opportunity to remind that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits on the backs of horsemen’s small businesses.

To read news coverage by Dara Kam of THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA, click HERE.

Gambling regulators at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation rejected Gretna Racing’s request for slot machines late in 2013, relying in part on an opinion issued by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office represented the agency in the First DCA lawsuit.

Gretna Racing has since conducted “flag drop” events, which are not approved, accredited or sanctioned in any way by theFlorida Quarter Horse Racing Association, which is the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Florida Horsemen Thwart Horse Racing Decoupling Amendment; FHBPA President Bill White Calls Out Big Casino Maneuvering

Florida Horsemen Thwart Horse Racing Decoupling Amendment; FHBPA President Bill White Calls Out Big Casino Maneuvering

“The State of Florida’s interest in gambling is to generate tax revenue, not to create the most profitable environment for gaming operations.”–FTBOA General Counsel Warren Husband

It was enough to give even the most experienced horseman a bad case of heartburn.

Reckoning day was April 21, 2015 in Tallahassee as the Florida House of Representatives’ powerful Finance and Tax Committee called roll to prepare for a debate on “decoupling,” with a specific amendment on decoupling horse racing taking dead aim on HB 1233, a massive overhaul of the state policy that could substantially expand Florida’s gambling landscape if enacted.

Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President and Calder Hall of Fame veteran Thoroughbred trainer Bill White straightened his tie, squared his shoulders and walked in.

A pantheon of casino industry lobbyists packed the committee room as White took his place at the front, shoulder to shoulder with his somber colleagues from the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) and Standardbred interests.  Together, they faced a gallery of legislators preparing to decide on the amendment to “decouple” horse racing from other forms of gambling in Florida.  The fate of horsemen–the trainers, owners and breeders who drive the lucrative horse racing business in the Sunshine State–hung in the balance.

“The State of Florida’s interest in gambling is to generate tax revenue, not to create the most profitable environment for gaming operations,” FTBOA General Counsel Warren Husband explained to legislators.   With 25,000 horses annually engaged in the business of Florida racing or breeding, the biggest economic impact is gained through ensuring adequate racing days, he added.

But in an age of “less government,” the concept of “decoupling” has become the rallying cry of casino operators seeking to rid themselves of horse racing altogether.  As White  listened to their impassioned arguments calling for “fairness” and “leveling the playing field” by leaving it up to pari-mutuel permitholders as to whether to conduct live racing or not, he wondered if legislators were aware of the many livelihoods and small businesses at stake.

He thought of the many faces of FHBPA members who were even now working on the backstretch as he jotted notes to himself far away in Tallahassee, readying himself for the trial by fire at hand.  Just one month into his new role as FHBPA President, the frustration of hearing horse racing trivialized over and over again as unremarkable collateral damage by those who may have never even seen a racetrack welled up in him as he strode to the podium when he was finally called to speak.

Right off the bat, White set the record straight on who the 6,000 FHBPA members are.  “We are the real deal as far as the horse owners who put up the money and the trainers’ small businesses who do the work,” he established.

The actual leveling of the playing field, was done by voters, who approved slots in 2004 to ensure that Florida horse racing could continue to compete with northern tracks already flush with casino money that was luring the best horsemen away from the state, he explained.  Stand-alone casinos were never the intent.

“Slots are here in Florida because of horse racing,” FQHRA Executive Director Steve Fisch said during his testimony.  “(Slots were) not a plan to race a few years, drop racing and then just have slots . . . a fair deal is a two-way street.”

Delivering a powerful punch to casino-only interests in his closing, White called out their presumptuousness in assuming the Florida Legislature would simply cave to special interests and ignore horsemen’s needs.

“Right now, whether you know it or not–even before decoupling might happen, Churchill Downs is tearing down the barns at Calder in anticipation that it will happen.  Horses have been displaced and even put in tents.  It’s been a real hardship.”  White fired his parting salvo:  ” . . . as a horseman who has invested my life in this game, I find this action insulting that an entity would take it upon themselves to do this before the Legislature has even acted.”

The horsemen’s strong unified presence paid off with the defeat of the horse racing decoupling amendment.  And although the greyhound-related decoupling provisions of HB 1233 passed that day, the clock ran out as the 2015 Legislative Session came to a contentious close just over a week later.

“We still have plenty of work to do,” he reminded FHBPA Board members as he gave his report upon coming back home to South Florida.  “I am urging horsemen to take all necessary steps to make your presence known to your Senators and State Representatives.  Your involvement is crucial.”

With the call of a Special Session anticipated this week for legislators to pass a state budget after they were unable to do so during the regularly scheduled Session, the general consensus is that gaming issues will likely not be on the agenda.  However, horsemen are urged to stay vigilant in the event that HB 1233 surfaces during the anticipated June 1 through June 20 Special Session time period.

To view the entire hearing, click HERE.  White’s testimony begins at minute mark 30:20.

Florida Horsemen’s New President Bill White: A Lifetime of Teaching, Coaching, Training Success Prepared Him To Lead FHBPA During Uncertain Times

Florida Horse Racing Thoroughbred Trainer Bill White is President of the Florida Horsemen FHBPA

Florida HBPA President Bill White (left) and Thoroughbred owner Jack Roberts

There must be something to that teacher/high school sports coach connection when it comes to training racehorses.  It’s served superstar horseman D. Wayne Lukas quite well and it’s also been the platform from which South Florida Thoroughbred conditioner Bill White has reached the mythical 2,000 win milestone, garnering 18 training titles along the way, from Tropical Park, to Hialeah Park–with eight consecutive years leading the trainer standings at Calder Race Course.

During his career, White has found that, like teaching, great coaching requires a love of seeing others succeed:  Helping kids, and even horses find their own definition of success. Having patience with his charges, while holding them accountable for playing their position on the team.

Now White, 62, has added a different kind of player to his coaching repertoire:  Horsemen.

On March 26, 2015, he was elected President of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a statewide organization of some 6,000 Thoroughbred racehorse owners and trainers who do business in Florida–some full-time, others part-time.  He will serve a one-year term, during which he plans to focus on Florida’s tenacious regulatory and legislative landscape, a veritable quagmire for horsemen recently as pari-mutuel permitholders, under pressure from Big Gaming entities, seek to “decouple”–that is, untether the legal requirement to conduct live racing in order to continue slot machine and card room operations.

While some would run from shouldering such a tough job, especially given the notoriously headstrong nature of horsemen, and even legislators, who are usually independent, self-made and highly opinionated, White is up to the task and on the muscle to effect lasting change.

Florida Horse Racing

FHBPA President Bill White with Mari George, Indianapolis Speedway Owner

During his first month in office as FHBPA President, he has curtailed his training business to give his all to Florida’s horsemen.  Several times a week, White walks the barns at Gulfstream and Calder, visiting with horsemen to get their thoughts and suggestions on issues, challenges and goals.  He is aggressively pursuing an upgrade and modernization of FHBPA communications, operations and accounting, while already having flown back and forth several times to Tallahassee to testify before various legislative committees, ensuring horsemen’s positions were held firm amid the tumultuous and historic 2015 Session that ended May 1.  It has been a grueling schedule, but he expected nothing less when he volunteered for the job.

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, White moved to Largo, Florida in 1968. After earning his Masters Degree in Special Education from University of South Florida, he taught in Sarasota public schools for six years, while coaching high school baseball at Booker High School.

“The team was winless when I took over.  Three years later, we were district champions,” White recalls.

His grandfather, Lawrence Adolfie, a Thoroughbred owner in Southern Illinois, was the source of his love for horse racing as a young boy.  While still teaching and supplementing his meager income by shoeing horses on the weekends, White was given an opportunity by owner Burton Butker to train at Tampa Bay Downs in 1983.  After a few starts, he had his first winner–a filly named Satu.

“I actually called in sick to school to get the day off so I could ship my filly in from a farm in Sarasota,” he remembers.  “I was so proud of myself that I showed the principal the win picture, completely forgetting I had called in sick!”

White soon resigned from teaching, spending his first three years after that at Tampa Bay Downs in the winter, and then training at Finger Lakes, River Downs and Atlantic City in the summer.  In 1986, he began training full-time in South Florida.

With years logged in service on the FHBPA Board throughout the past decades, White has learned a great deal about the organization.

“I feel that because of my long experience in racing in South Florida I can have a positive influence,” he said.  “It is my goal to create a spirit of unity between the FHBPA, the breeders and Gulfstream Park as we all face an uncertain future.”

White and his wife, Laura, have been married since 1976.   They have two grown children, Lindsey and Jake.

Read News Coverage of Bill White’s Recent Election on @BloodHorse:  http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/91099/white-elected-president-of-florida-hbpa

Gambling Expanding Statewide Even As Florida Senate Gaming Committee Considers Proposed Bills Today

March 3, 2014–As the Florida Senate Gaming Committee begins deliberation on hundreds of pages of proposed new gambling and pari-mutuel laws at its meeting today, word of a strange construction project in South Marion County has the area near The Villages buzzing about whether the structure is a card room or a horse racetrack.

According to Florida horse racing industry sources, unknown horse-related competitive events will take place there on March 17, despite the fact that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was twice declared illegal by a court of law.

Speaking on behalf of nearly 7,000 collective racehorse owners and trainers, Florida horse racing industry officials confirm the project is NOT Thoroughbred racing.  And it’s definitely NOT American Quarter Horse racing, either.

The American Quarter Horse Association and its Florida chapter, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA) report that no one has contacted either organization in reference to the South Marion project to apply for accreditation as legitimate Quarter Horse racing.

“No one really knows exactly what type of contrived horse activity the South Marion project is intending to conduct.  We can only hope that more phony racing has not been used as an excuse to allow a year ’round card room,” said Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling.  “It’s a good example of how unchecked gambling is expanding statewide at the direct expense of Florida’s lucrative horse racing industry.”

In 2012, an elderly horsemen was duped into renting his American Quarter Horses for what he thought was a practice session under the auspices of the South Marion Real Estate Holdings pari-mutuel permit.   He reported seeing Florida regulators and law enforcement officials on hand at the event, which made him initially believe what he was doing was legitimate horse racing, but upon later consideration, he felt he had been misled.  To read the complete story as reported by Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form, click here.

Representatives from both the FHBPA and FQHRA will attend the Senate Gaming Committee hearing, which begins today at 1:30 p.m. (ET).

“At stake are the many jobs created by our members, the vast majority of whom are small businesses,” Stirling said.  “We are substantially concerned with the ultimate outcome.”

To go directly to the Senate Gaming Committee Web page and meeting materials, click here.

To watch the hearing Webcast live, click here or go to www.TheFloridaChannel.org

To access the Senate Gaming Committee’s proposed bills, click here.

To read more about issues affecting Florida’s horse racing industry, go to www.FloridaHorsemen.com

“Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Is An Unadopted Rule, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal Affirms

In a short opinion issued today, February 7, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal (“First DCA”) affirmed last year’s lower court ruling that Florida pari-mutuel regulators’ licensing of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” failed to follow proper rulemaking procedure.

To view the opinion, click HERE.

“ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule,” the First DCA judges wrote today.

“The irony is that, during the years of litigation on this case, the professional riders who actually compete in real barrel racing have come to learn that the empty promises made by ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ were not about promoting their sport, but about Gretna Racing LLC using them as a means to run a cardroom 365 days a year,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a statewide organization comprising over 6,000 Thoroughbred owners and trainers that supported the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association in the litigation.

“The unfortunate aftermath of ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ is that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering immediately pivoted and issued a license to Gretna for ‘flag drop racing’—another contrived event conjured up for the same exploitative purpose,” Stirling added.   “The collateral damage for this and other statewide misuses of American Quarter Horse pari-mutuel permits is that the State of Florida cannot fully realize the immense positive economic benefit that legitimate horse racing actually brings.”

Hialeah Park, the only venue in Florida that hosts AQHA-accredited American Quarter Horse racing under the stewardship of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, has seen record crowds and growing wagering handle each year.

“This case is not about the merits of one sport over another,” explained Trey Buck, Executive Director of Racing for the American Quarter Horse Association.  “It’s about following the rules.  The fact is, legitimate American Quarter Horse racing is a proven economic driver nationwide.  By ensuring AQHA accreditation of American Quarter Horse racing, the State of Florida can be assured it is not only maximizing the revenue-generation of its pari-mutuel permits, but ensuring the integrity and safety of the events for fans and participants alike.”

About the American Quarter Horse Association

AQHA is the world’s largest breed registry and equine organization with its international headquarters located in Amarillo, TX.

AQHA issues and maintains the pedigrees, registration and performance records of American Quarter Horses.  AQHA also promulgates rules and regulations that govern AQHA-approved events and competition including competition involving the pari-mutuel racing of American Quarter Horses and the showing of American Quarter Horses.

The AQHA rules and regulations that govern the pari-mutuel racing of American Quarter Horses are contained in the Racing Rules and Regulations section of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.  AQHA does not recognize barrel racing as a pari-mutuel racing event.  Instead, barrel racing is considered a “show” event and as such is governed by the show rules and regulations set forth in Show and Performance sections of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.

While rules of Racing Authorities take precedence, AQHA, for purposes of AQHA records and programs, reserves the right to deny or revoke recognition of a race which does not observe the rules and regulations contained herein. American Quarter Horse racing is defined as two or more American Quarter Horses registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, entered and competing in the same race at the same time from a regulation starting gate, at distances and conditions recognized by AQHA and running at full speed, unimpeded by obstacles, thru a common finish line.

In short, AQHA supports both types of disciplines as competition for American Quarter Horses.  Horse racing is conducted on a traditional oval racetrack covering distances between 110 and 1,000 yards without obstacles.  Barrel racing is an individually timed contest conducted in a pen or arena running around 3 evenly spaced barrels or obstacles.