It may be too early to strike up the band for a few bars of “Roll Out the Barrels,” but it looks like the gig may be up for backers of pari-mutuel barrel racing in Florida. Those proponents, starting with the group that obtained a permit to conduct barrel racing in the small panhandle town of Gretna in Gadsden County, were dealt a severe blow Monday when Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham ruled the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering policy treating barrel races as “traditional” is in violation of Florida law.
The barrel racing scheme was being used as a means to obtain a racing permit that could eventually lead to a card club and casino gambling.
It was driven by David Romanik, the one-time president of Gulfstream Park, and Gulfstream Park lobbyist Marc Dunbar.
The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association both petitioned the state to overturn the Gretna barrel racing permit granted by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in 2011.
At issue was the definition of a “horse race,” which had been defined in 1968 as either “running horse races” or “harness horse races.” A later definition mentioned a third kind of racing for Quarter horses that, according to Van Laningham, involved the American Quarter Horse Association as a sanctioning body. “The AQHA does not recognize (barrel racing) as a type of quarter horse race,” he wrote in his findings of fact. “Barrel racing does not resemble the traditional Quarter horse races that AQHA does recognize. (Barrel racing) therefore does not come within the plain meaning of the term 'Quarter horse race' as used” in state law.
The DPMW, in its argument, claimed the act of issuing a pari-mutuel license for horse racing is “of no concern to anyone except the Division and the licensee” – a position Van Laningham called false.
Gretna was the first of several barrel-racing permits being sought as a low-cost alternative to building a racetrack to conduct traditional Quarter horse racing and, presumably, seek a casino permit.
“The State of Florida should be pleased with this ruling,” said Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association President Dr. Steve Fisch. “It is well-written and consistent with the law. This ruling will lend confidence to both Florida Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred breeders and owners that Florida is a legally safe and prosperous state in which to race and breed a superior horse.”
“The fact is, the majority of the barrel horse industry was against pari-mutuel barrel racing, since the 'Gretna Model' that was used did not provide the economic stimulus that was promised to their industry. The leadership at National Barrel Horse Association seems to be pleased with the ruling. Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds alike can now race and breed without the fear that one of Florida's major economic engines that produces thousands of the nation's best race horses and provides tens of thousands of jobs would otherwise have been reduced to a farce that would only have required as few as 10 to 12 horses at a day's performance, producing virtually no additional net jobs.
“The Florida Quarter Horse industry has produced multiple world champion racing Quarter Horses and four winners of the $2.4 million All-American Futurity. The growth of both Florida's Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred industries industry has been severely stymied by these questionable activities over the past few years. But now, with this ruling, the thousands of owners and breeders of Florida race horses can get on with their business of producing jobs and green space for Floridians.
“As for Florida's professional racing industry horsemen who have fought this battle, we have essentially paid the litigation bill at both ends. And, we have endured the irony of knowing the very same owners of that new gambling product were actually litigating on behalf of the State of Florida against us.
“But this trial has been about far more than serving justice for an outright hijack of Florida's legislative and regulatory process by a few special interests.
“Our fight has been about protecting the Florida horse racing industry's $2.2 billion annual contribution to Florida's economy that brings solid business, tourism and jobs to our state, as well as national and international prestige in the finest international horse racing communities.
“Our industry creates over 104,000 documented annual jobs in Florida, and we have weathered this spurious litigation to protect them. Literally, as the 'Gretna Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing' model and its proliferating hybrids are substituted for legitimate horse racing by pari-mutuel permitholders as an end-run around Florida's statutory requirements for slot machines and card rooms, thousands of horse racing and breeding jobs and businesses that would have otherwise been created have never had a chance to materialize.
“Thus, our battle has been about ensuring that generations of people, families and businesses that have built their livelihoods on horse racing can continue to invest and grow in Florida.
“It also has been about protecting the wagering public by ensuring the integrity of our product through the careful oversight of our independent horsemen's associations.
“As this audacious case has dragged on, our policymakers have come to realize what we horsemen knew all along—that Gretna Racing LLC's “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was simply the pilot project to bypass state and federal laws that protect and ensure integrity in the wagering and racing product throughout America. But by virtually eliminating the need for horses, independent horsemen and legitimate racing, the “Gretna Model” creates nothing but an economic black hole.
“Indeed, those who otherwise would have invested in Florida horse racing and breeding have watched in in amazement as our industry stood under attack—all because of clever lawyering and loopholes that have now run amok.
“As lawful, independent and statutory horsemen's organizations that have historically functioned as partners with Florida's pari-mutuel permitholders to produce hundreds of millions in revenue and economic impact, our members hope to once again regard Florida as a permanent home, and that we prosper together in growing our economy as was the intent of awarding pari-mutuel permits to begin with.
“Simply, Florida's economy and gambling landscape benefits exponentially with legitimate racing, but becomes a special interest vortex without it.
“On behalf of our owners, trainers and countless tireless workers who make Florida horse racing successful on both the national and international level, we are committed to ensuring our sport stays legitimate, so it can be enjoyed by generations to come.
“Remember, as Winston Churchill once said, 'There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.'”
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