By KENT STIRLING, STEVE FISCH|Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published: April 03, 2012 Updated: April 03, 2012 – 12:00 AM
As the people of Hamilton County in North Florida approach the April 10 decision on whether to allow slot machines at Hamilton Downs Jai Alai and Poker, they should know that the referendum’s backers have deliberately misled them on the number of promised jobs, as well as the highly questionable behind-the-scenes manipulation on which the referendum is based.
The stark reality is that if Hamilton Downs were holding legitimate, accredited quarter horse racing versus the contrived “parimutuel barrel racing,” a minimum of 800 more jobs would be available. The truth is available in documented real numbers — not promises or projections.
Heretofore, Florida has allowed slot machines only at facilities that hold live racing, which traditionally employs thousands of people. Last year, more than 800 workers were licensed at Hialeah Park, at which legitimate quarter horse racing drew a daily average of 4,100 people, who wagered an average of more than $200,000 per day. Nearly $4 million in prize money was paid to competitors — all without the “help” of slot machines, poker or other predatory forms of gambling.
In direct competition, legitimate quarter horse racing out-earned Gretna Racing LLC’s self-styled “parimutuel barrel racing” by more than 99 percent. Worse, during December and January, Gretna “pari-mutuel barrel racing” paid the state of Florida only $19.64 in daily pari-mutuel taxes.
Last year, Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering played a cruel trick on the people of Gretna in Gadsden County by enabling a rodeo event to be considered as a horse race. Ironically, “parimutuel barrel racing,” which is not even real barrel racing, is cleverly and purposefully designed to actually eliminate jobs that would normally be created by legitimate horse racing.
The record books will show that Gretna’s “parimutuel barrel racing” can be conducted with as few as 36 horses for the entire “meet,” whereas legitimate horse racing at Hialeah Park drew nearly 1,000 documented and accredited quarter horses from around the nation. All those horses employed a whole lot of people in Miami — both on the track and off, and drew entourages that enriched the businesses in Hialeah and Miami-Dade County, as well as generated tax payments that benefited the entire Florida economy.
Because each horse creates an average of seven jobs, Florida’s horse racing industry has grown over the years to employ in excess of 50,000 people annually, ranking us third in the nation behind New York and California. But parimutuel owners who are using “parimutuel barrel racing” to deliberately cut the number of jobs, horses and racing days down to the bare minimum don’t care. They hope their paltry promise of a few hundred jobs can fool Hamilton’s unwitting citizens, whose “yes” vote will be used to make a few insiders very wealthy, with little return for Florida’s economy.
Considered by the National Barrel Horse Association to be a joke and an insult to its sport, “parimutuel barrel racing” requires just eight horses per performance, as opposed to an actual sanctioned barrel racing event, which typically draws hundreds of horses in just one day. Nothing but a perfunctory way to meet the state’s live racing requirements, “parimutuel barrel racing” purposely eliminates the need for additional horses and their respective entourages (and thus, jobs) that legitimate horse racing brings.
When the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association insisted upon safe, American Quarter Horse Association-approved humane conditions for horses that were supposed to run in on an oval track promised by Gretna Racing LLC owners, Gretna Racing’s Alabama Poarch Indian Tribe and lobbyist-owners sued. To date, no oval track has been built, while regulators sit idle and allow these promises to be broken.
Now, other parimutuels stand to benefit from the “Gretna Loophole.”
Neither the National Barrel Horse Association nor the American Quarter Horse Association approve of “parimutuel barrel racing.” Rather, Gretna Racing “competitors” are just a pre-selected few insiders who have signed away their rights in a non-compete agreement.
“Parimutuel barrel racing” will never grow into anything. Its creators don’t want it to. What they want is your money in their slot machines.
Only with legitimate horse racing can the installation of slot machines create a winning equation that truly will grow the economy by creating thousands more jobs. And not only at the Hamilton Downs facility, but throughout the county and surrounding areas by fostering the breeding, training and racing of legitimate race horses — which is what Hamilton’s people expect. When the resulting outlying farms grow and prosper through legitimate horse racing, businesses will grow to support them.
On April 10 the people of Hamilton County should vote “no” or, better yet, save their votes for a day when the casino barons actually deliver the fair deal that taxpayers expect: 1,000 quarter horses at a real racetrack, and the thousands of jobs they create.
Kent Stirling is executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Dr. Steven Fisch is president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association.