Gretna Flaunts Intention to Hold Pari-Mutuel Barrel Races Despite Absence of Specific Permission; Dubious License Award Made Over Objections of 70,000 Florida and National Horsemen

Despite the vocal objections of 70,000 Florida and national horsemen, and against the warnings of expanded gambling, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has approved a license application yesterday, October 19, 2011, for Gretna Creek Entertainment, a consortium of insider lobbyists and an Alabama tribal Indian gaming company, to hold additional racing dates under its existing Quarter Horse racing permit.
Even though Gretna’s application and the resultant granted license made no mention of its intention to use the added dates to replace legitimate Quarter Horse racing with rodeo-style mixed breed “barrel racing,” Gretna’s lobbyist and Indian owners have wantonly publicized the fact that they also presume to have been granted carte blanche by Florida pari-mutuel regulators to freely flout the law and run a 365-day cardroom and poker operation, while paying short shrift to federal statutes, Florida’s Legislature, the horse racing industry and its diverse people.

Ironically, while promulgating its self-owned “North Florida Horsemen’s Association” whose membership contract would prevent mostly unsuspecting, under-aged barrel racers from joining any other horsemen’s group, the Gretna conspirators have concurrently launched a volatile and destructive pair of lawsuits aimed at the State’s longstanding Standardbred industry and fledgling Quarter Horse racing industry, with the end goal of overturning a federal law that protects the horse racing community with legal rights in issues such as negotiating with track owners on purse money.  The Thoroughbred industry is expected to be targeted next.

“I’m not really surprised by this decision,” Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Kent Stirling said in an interview with the Blood Horse, a respected international Thoroughbred industry magazine. “After all, this is Florida. These three guys spent a couple of years working on this. It looks like they will make a lot of money on a poker room, without a lot going to the barrel racers. This also could be very detrimental to the future of horse racing in Florida.”

With the glaring absence of any pari-mutuel regulatory infrastructure or installation thereof at Gretna yet to be addressed by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Gretna claims it will open for racing on December 1, 2011. 

In the article to the right, the Blood Horse noted that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering approval of Gretna’s application raises the issue of what activities are permissible under a Quarter Horse permit or any other pari-mutuel permit in Florida, for that matter.  According to Florida law, any pari-mutuel permitholder that conducts at least the minimum number of required “performances” a year can also have a poker room open 365 days a year.  Expectedly, poker has been the main source of revenue growth at many non-horse pari-mutuel facilities in Florida.

Gulfstream Park, Pompano Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Hialeah Park, and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association all own Quarter Horse licenses, Stirling noted.

Quote from Dr. Stephen D. Fisch, President; Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association:

“While we are disappointed in the Division’s decision, we are confident that the Florida statutes regarding this issue are unequivocal.  It is our position that the granting of the Gretna license is inconsistent with the Florida statutes and horse racing industry standards.  We are currently exploring our legal options.  Behind each obstacle or disadvantage there is an advantage or benefit of equal magnitude. You just have to look for it.  This situation has greatly united the horsemen of Florida and actually the horsemen around the country.  We have the full support of the United Horsemen of Florida which is composed of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Florida Standardbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, the Florida Thorougbhred Breeders’ and Owners Association, the Florida Quarter Horse Association, National Barrel Association and its Florida Chapter, the American Quarter Horse Association and the Florida Quarter Horse racing Association.  We also have the support of major individual industry leaders such as AQHA/NBHA/WPRA World Champion and Hall of Fame Barrel Racer, Martha Josey and others.

“Activity such as the granting of this license actually helps open the door to correct loopholes in the law.  This decision affects not only the Quarter Horse industry, but the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries as well, because their statutory language closely mirrors the Quarter Horse language. The legislators who voted to close loopholes in the gaming laws in 2010 will probably want to look closely at the statutes to make sure the same type of activity is not attempted again in the future.  When it is all over, the horse industry and the people of Florida should be better than ever.  If our governmental leadership really wants to produce jobs, I don’t think they will trade a few card room jobs for tens of thousands of equine industry jobs and all the spinoff jobs that go with them.  The fact is:  Each racehorse on a race track produces seven jobs.”

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