A judge on Tuesday refused to halt an administrative challenge to a new form of betting – quarter horse barrel racing – in a complex case that could affect efforts to expand gaming at pari-mutuel facilities across Florida.It was a preliminary round victory for two groups representing quarter horse owners, breeders and trainers. They contend barrel racing is a cheap way for tracks to bypass state racing regulations to get approval for more lucrative card rooms and possibly slot machines.The issue, though, is far from settled.
The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, whose members engage in traditional racing around a track, are contesting the state’s decision to allow wagering on barrel racing in Gretna, a small town east of Tallahassee.
Gretna Racing is expected to begin operating Thursday, for the first time offering the public a chance to bet on what until now has been a rodeo event for women.
The Florida Quarter Horse Track Association, whose members include Gretna Racing, asked Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll to block the administrative challenge until he has a chance to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s quarter horse racing laws.
Carroll denied that motion after a brief hearing.
“I may ultimately agree that these statutes are unconstitutional,” Carroll said. “I do not know at this point, but I’m going to deny the motion at this time and not interfere with the administrative law judge.”
Harold Purnell, a lawyer for the horsemen’s groups, argued that Carroll’s ultimate decision may be a moot issue if the administrative law judge, Cathy Sellers, allows his clients to amend their complaint.
The group previously contended that a law giving the Florida Quarter Horse Association virtual veto power over the addition of card rooms and slot machines also gives the group the right to challenge the Greta permit. If the law were to be declared unconstitutional, it no longer would have standing to pursue the challenge.
The amended complaint would get around that potential disqualification by arguing the association also has a right to challenge the permit because barrel racing would have a negative effect on its members as it requires fewer horses and riders.
The revised complaint also would add two individual petitioners who breed and race quarter horses.
The track association opposes those changes. Sellers has scheduled a hearing on the matter Friday.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which issued the barrel racing permit, sided with the track association’s request to put the administrative case on hold although it would be responsible for defending the laws in Carroll’s court.
Ralf Michels, a lawyer for the agency, later said it just wants to avoid duplication.
“Hopefully one court or the other will have an opportunity to sort it out,” he said.