If Fielding Mellish, the hapless revolutionary from the 1971 Woody Allen movie “Bananas,” were representing Florida horsemen in trying to stop the barrel-racing-for-slots scheme from proceeding any further, he'd have the perfect description of what has taken place so far: “It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”
Beyond that, it's a classic example of log-rolling politics in Tallahassee, Florida's capital, where it's not what you know but who you know. And in the case of the Gretna Racing LLC application to have pari-mutuel barrel racing in Gadsden County – a move that could spread to other parts of the state and permit these licensed “racetracks” to offer slot machines – one of its investors, lawyer-lobbyist Marc Dunbar, knows some very powerful people.
Dunbar's law firm is listed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, as a source of income as recently as 2010. Shortly after MacNamara joined Scott's administration last July, he reportedly received an email from his old boss Dunbar complaining about the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
In September, Dunbar's Gretna Racing application was filed with the DPMW, attempting to exploit a loophole in Florida's gaming law that could permit a racetrack to be licensed without offering what most people traditionally think of as a horse race. Enter a handful of horses and riders, a couple of barrels, some pari-mutuel machines, and a local referendum to permit slot machines.
It's Dunbar and partner David Romanik's 21st century definition of pari-mutuel horse racing.
That same month, the powerful MacNamara wielded his clout at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the DPMW. Its director, Ken Lawson, called DPMW chief Milt Champion into a meeting and told him to step down from the job he'd held for the past five years.
“He told me Marc Dunbar is close with the governor's chief of staff and they want me to resign, so I resigned,” the Miami Herald quoted Champion as saying.
Leon M. Biegalski was named director of the division, and the Gretna application was approved.
Champion told the Miami Herald as head of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering he “would have strongly suggested we not approve it.”
Is this whole sequence of events an abuse of power? That's not for me to say, but it certainly looks like a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.
It's not over. Florida horsemen have gone to court to try and stop this bizarre scheme. Their case, in front of an administrative law judge, began in April and has been postponed until June. In the interim, the Miami Herald has uncovered the relationship between Gov. Scott's chief of staff and one of Gretna Racing's partners, and his possible influence in replacing the director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel.
Let's hope the judge isn't as friendly with Steve MacNamara as Marc Dunbar is.
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