Ruling Delayed on Florida Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing

The Florida Division of Administrative Hearings ended a four-day hearing June 29 without issuing a ruling on whether Gretna Racing, LLC, in Gretna, Fla., can continue to use a Quarter Horse racing license to hold pari-mutuel barrel racing meets.

The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association are asking the Division of Administrative Hearings to order the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) to revoke the Quarter Horse and poker room licenses it approved last year for Gretna Racing.

The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association are among groups that maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not permissible under Florida laws. They are not plaintiffs in the administrative hearing, but they support the two Quarter Horse associations that filed the case last Nov. 10.

Administrative Judge Cathy Sellers will resume the hearing Aug. 22 in Tallahassee. A ruling also would determine, or at least provide guidance on, whether the Florida DPMW can issue other racing licenses that could be used for pari-mutuel barrel racing.

If Sellers concludes the hearing in late August, she would have 60 days--until late October--to issue a ruling. By then Gretna Racing would be preparing for its second race meet, which would begin this December.

Gretna Racing used its Quarter Horse license, issued Oct. 19, 2011, to hold 40 rodeo-like barrel racing performances in December 2011 and January 2012 at its facility about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. Research by The Blood-Horse indicates there have been no other recent pari-mutuel barrel racing meets in the United States.

In their petition, the plaintiffs emphasized their view that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under Florida laws and maintained that the DPMW did not take all required steps in reviewing Gretna Racing's applications. However, Gretna Racing had Quarter Horses as the majority of horses in its barrel races and thus met a state requirement for the breeds that can be used under a Quarter Horse license.

This year the Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have specifically excluded barrel racing from pari-mutuel horse racing. It is anticipated that sponsors will introduce a similar bill for the 2013 session.

Officials of the Florida HBPA declined comment concerning Sellers' extension of the hearing. Marc Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and a part owner of Creek Entertainment Gretna, which operates Gretna Racing, did not return several phone calls amid the late June hearing.

In a press release June 25, the Florida HBPA reiterated its concern that any expansion of low-cost pari-mutuel barrel racing, combined with poker and perhaps casinos, could siphon considerable gaming dollars from Florida's racetracks and have a substantial impact on the state's breeding industry. Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling noted that the state's horse racing industry has 50,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $2.2 billion.

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

About the Author

Jim Freer

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