Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Action on Gretna Racing Slot Machine Ruling Cheered by Florida’s Thoroughbred Racehorse Owners and Trainers

In response to the news that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has requested a full-court rehearing of a recent ruling allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC, Florida’s Thoroughbred racehorse owners and trainers agreed that, without such intervention, the result of allowing the earlier decision to stand would indeed be a “jaw-dropping gambling expansion.”

Representing more than 6,000 horsemen statewide, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President Bill White reminded that, during the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.   Other pari-mutuel permit holders followed suit, basing their actions on various convolutions of horse-related events designed as work-arounds to Florida law, which requires two years worth of live horse racing as a prerequisite to licensing for card rooms or slot machines.

In 2013, it was adjudicated that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input.

The most recent developments in the Gretna Racing matter have led horsemen to question whether a slot license legally can, or should be granted to the North Florida pari-mutuel permitholder, or any similar permitholder that has used horse-related events in a manner that has precluded the creation of jobs, businesses and positive economic benefit that would normally come with accredited horse racing and breeding operations.

The FHBPA and its colleagues, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, have strongly objected to the use of questionable horse-related events like “flag dropping” and “pari-mutuel barrel racing” in lieu of horse racing–heretofore unheard-of events that have been allowed to serve as the pari-mutuel basis for licensing of 365-day cardrooms, simulcasting or efforts to secure slot machines.

“If accredited horse racing would have been required in these locations, their local communities could have created far more jobs, businesses and economic impact,” White explained.  “For this reason, we urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing American Quarter Horse racing industry.”

“This is a good opportunity to remind our policymakers  that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits,” White noted.

Florida Horse Racing Medication Statute To Change on “Racing of Animals Under Certain Conditions Prohibited: Penalties; Exceptions”

It is likely that, by the deadline of June 2, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott will sign House Bill 239 Florida Race Day Medication which will change Chapter 550.2415, Florida Statutes rather dramatically.  Chapter 550.2415 is the “medication statute” under whose direction Florida Thoroughbred horsemen have raced for the last 25 or more years.

Despite the fact it was always up to the Florida Legislature to make any changes to this law,  various industry leaders and organizations have freely shared their opinions about Florida being the major “obstructionist” state to the adoption of national uniform medication rules.  Sadly, I have heard this constantly at Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) meetings, rehashed to the point that the Jockey Club sent their Executive Vice President to Florida (twice) to meet with the FHBPA and the track veterinarian.  We worked through a lot of issues, but still had one issue that was never resolved to my satisfaction, which we will touch on later.

Meanwhile, for the past two years, Gulfstream Park, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association) were on board to get legislation passed that would lead to Florida joining the national movement to achieve uniformity in medication rules.  Ultimately, the 2015 Florida Legislature agreed unanimously with HB 239 which passed the House 112-0 and the Senate by a 40-0 vote.

So exactly what changes can we expect if this bill becomes law and goes into effect on July 1, 2015?   Below, I will review the major revisions to Chapter 550.2415 as they occur in HB 239.

First, language has been changed for drug testing from “immediately prior” to “before” the race to permit testing for gene and blood doping, which can only be detected days before a race and then only has about a two-day “window” for detection after administration.

Second, the fine that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) can impose for a drug violation has been increased from $5,000 to “an amount not exceeding the purse or sweepstakes earned by the animal . . . or $10,000 whichever is greater.”

Third, the prosecution for a violation of this statute must begin within “90 days” of the drug test positive.  The old language gave the DPMW two years to commence prosecution for a violation.

Fourth, the DPMW must now notify the “appropriate horsemen’s association” of all positive drug test results.  In these cases, the FHBPA can often explain the horsemen’s rights and assist in choosing a split sample laboratory if necessary.

Fifth, if there is an insufficient quantity for a split sample after the lab has called a positive on the sample, the DPMW can take no further action against the trainer, and the positive is dismissed.  In the past, if there was an insufficient quantity for the split sample, the DPMW could take administrative action against the trainer based solely on the Florida Laboratory’s finding.

Sixth, The DPMW “shall require its laboratory . . . to annually participate in an externally administered quality assurance program (QAP) designed to assess testing proficiency in the detection and appropriate quantification of medications, drugs . . . ”  Results and findings of this QAP shall be sent to the DPMW and the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Seventh, the DPMW shall adopt the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule which, at the time, established thresholds and withdrawal times for 26 medications (which has now grown to 30 medications).  Just about every major racing jurisdiction has adopted these 26 or 30 medications.  The science behind some of thresholds and withdrawal times for these medications is suspect, but for the most part it’s a good start towards national uniformity.

Eighth, the Florida laboratory will now be required to include its measurement uncertainty, or laboratory error, in all quantifications of medications which will greatly reduce the low-level findings of our lab that have led to over 150 bute overages and over 250 clenbuterol positives in the past two years.

Ninth, the DPMW shall adopt any laboratory screening levels approved by the ARCI beyond the 26/30 Controlled Therapeutic  Medications.  If there are none forthcoming from ARCI, Florida could treat these therapeutic medications with zero tolerance testing.

Tenth, prednisolone sodium succinate, better known as Solu-Delta Cortef will no longer be permitted on race day.  Florida was the last state with a legal race day medication beyond Lasix.  We tried to save it, but to no avail.

Eleventh, the statute that permitted testing of ARCI Class IV and V medications only by Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) that I wrote in 1996 was also deleted from the law by HB 239.   We knew this would be inevitable, but it stood up for 19 years.

“Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Is An Unadopted Rule, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal Affirms

In a short opinion issued today, February 7, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal (“First DCA”) affirmed last year’s lower court ruling that Florida pari-mutuel regulators’ licensing of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” failed to follow proper rulemaking procedure.

To view the opinion, click HERE.

“ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule,” the First DCA judges wrote today.

“The irony is that, during the years of litigation on this case, the professional riders who actually compete in real barrel racing have come to learn that the empty promises made by ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ were not about promoting their sport, but about Gretna Racing LLC using them as a means to run a cardroom 365 days a year,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a statewide organization comprising over 6,000 Thoroughbred owners and trainers that supported the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association in the litigation.

“The unfortunate aftermath of ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ is that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering immediately pivoted and issued a license to Gretna for ‘flag drop racing’—another contrived event conjured up for the same exploitative purpose,” Stirling added.   “The collateral damage for this and other statewide misuses of American Quarter Horse pari-mutuel permits is that the State of Florida cannot fully realize the immense positive economic benefit that legitimate horse racing actually brings.”

Hialeah Park, the only venue in Florida that hosts AQHA-accredited American Quarter Horse racing under the stewardship of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, has seen record crowds and growing wagering handle each year.

“This case is not about the merits of one sport over another,” explained Trey Buck, Executive Director of Racing for the American Quarter Horse Association.  “It’s about following the rules.  The fact is, legitimate American Quarter Horse racing is a proven economic driver nationwide.  By ensuring AQHA accreditation of American Quarter Horse racing, the State of Florida can be assured it is not only maximizing the revenue-generation of its pari-mutuel permits, but ensuring the integrity and safety of the events for fans and participants alike.”

About the American Quarter Horse Association

AQHA is the world’s largest breed registry and equine organization with its international headquarters located in Amarillo, TX.

AQHA issues and maintains the pedigrees, registration and performance records of American Quarter Horses.  AQHA also promulgates rules and regulations that govern AQHA-approved events and competition including competition involving the pari-mutuel racing of American Quarter Horses and the showing of American Quarter Horses.

The AQHA rules and regulations that govern the pari-mutuel racing of American Quarter Horses are contained in the Racing Rules and Regulations section of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.  AQHA does not recognize barrel racing as a pari-mutuel racing event.  Instead, barrel racing is considered a “show” event and as such is governed by the show rules and regulations set forth in Show and Performance sections of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.

While rules of Racing Authorities take precedence, AQHA, for purposes of AQHA records and programs, reserves the right to deny or revoke recognition of a race which does not observe the rules and regulations contained herein. American Quarter Horse racing is defined as two or more American Quarter Horses registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, entered and competing in the same race at the same time from a regulation starting gate, at distances and conditions recognized by AQHA and running at full speed, unimpeded by obstacles, thru a common finish line.

In short, AQHA supports both types of disciplines as competition for American Quarter Horses.  Horse racing is conducted on a traditional oval racetrack covering distances between 110 and 1,000 yards without obstacles.  Barrel racing is an individually timed contest conducted in a pen or arena running around 3 evenly spaced barrels or obstacles.


Florida’s Thoroughbred, Quarter Horsemen Draw Praise for Unity At Today’s Pari-Mutuel Regulatory Hearing

October 16, 2013–The coalition of horse racing owners, trainers and breeders on hand for today’s Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering rule hearing in Broward County drew praise and recognition from others in attendance who noted the unification among Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and even some racetrack facility interests in advocating for a cleanup of Florida’s horse racing rules.

Packed into a cramped, hot room for a hearing that was originally scheduled to last the entire day, a “who’s who” of Florida horsemen and statewide representatives from various pari-mutuel factions commented on the proposed rules in an orderly, upbeat manner that belied ongoing tensions among them stemming from the past several years of regulatory havoc.  While many lauded the new rules as a long overdue basis for change, others warned of protracted lawsuits that could erupt from their various nuances.

The hearing concluded in approximately an hour and a half, with most speakers indicating they would provide written copies of their respective suggestions and comments to Division officials later on.

Precipitating today’s hearing, wildly variant interpretations of Florida horse racing law have freely proliferated during the past several years—particularly to the detriment of legitimate, accredited Quarter Horse racing as sanctioned by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA).

“We definitely think today’s workshop represents a positive forward step by the Division toward ensuring the integrity and stability of Florida horse racing for all breeds–a multi-billion dollar industry with a bright and profitable future as noted by legislative consultants this month during the Florida House and Senate gaming hearings.” said Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling, whose organization represents some 6,000 Thoroughbred owners and trainers statewide.  “We look forward to working with the Division to lend our national industry knowledge and expertise.”

Today’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering regulatory hearing—the first in a series of planned events by the agency—took place in advance of a legislative workshop series being held by the Florida Senate Gaming Committee to receive public input on the recent Spectrum Gaming Study.  The series begins on October 23 in Coconut Creek.

Hyperlinks to the proposed Rules reviewed today are listed below:

61D-2.024 Track General Rules
61D-2.025 Race General Rules
61D-2.026 Jai Alai Game General Rules
61D-2.027 Performances
61D-2.028 Jockey Requirements
61D-2.029 Qualifications of Horses to Start






Rectifying Past Florida Pari-Mutuel Regulatory Wrongs A Step in the Right Direction, Horsemen Say

Given  the imminent final phase of the Florida Legislature’s highly anticipated gaming study, how proposed new pari-mutuel rules might factor into future policymaking is unknown, but Florida’s horsemen agree that recent developments on both the regulatory and legislative fronts have horse racing industry leaders feeling somewhat hopeful.

Statewide, racehorse owners, trainers and breeders will be watching closely this Monday, September 23, 2013, as the Florida Senate Gaming Committee holds its first interim meeting from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Tallahassee.

At Monday’s meeting, Senators will meet to discuss the format and schedule for a series of four (4) public workshops scheduled around the state to review a study conducted by Spectrum Gaming Inc. on Florida’s gaming industry and its economic effects.   They will also review Part 1 of the Spectrum study, parts of which with horsemen have concerns.

“There’s no denying that the laws and rules surrounding horse racing are complex,” said Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Kent Stirling, whose organization represents nearly 6,000 independent Thoroughbred horse owners and trainers.   “But we definitely feel that some of the statements in Part 1 of the Spectrum Study could use clarification—for instance, citing declines in paid attendance when, in fact, there has been no paid attendance at Florida horse tracks in years.”

The Gaming Committee’s first public workshop on the Spectrum Study takes place on October 23 in Coconut Creek at Broward College North Campus from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Regulatory Hearings on New Horse Racing Rules Begin Just Days Earlier

But just days earlier on October 16—also in Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale)—the first of a series of regulatory hearings held by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering will also take place.  Public comment will be allowed on a slate of proposed new horse racing Rules—many of which seem to address heretofore wildly variant interpretations of Florida horse racing law that have freely proliferated during the past several  years—particularly to the detriment of legitimate, accredited Quarter Horse racing as sanctioned by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA).

“While we’re not yet sure how the Division’s rulemaking might dovetail with any findings and legislation filed by the Senate Gaming Committee, Florida’s horsemen definitely think our regulators are moving in the right direction—back toward normalcy, with respect to Florida’s hard-earned acclaim in the global horse racing community,” said FQHRA President Dr. Steve Fisch, whose organization represents the Florida arm of the powerful American Quarter Horse Association.

“Horsemen are ready to work with the Division to ensure aberrations like six-foot tall, 200-pound wranglers dressed in dungarees and t-shirts are no longer allowed to pass for ‘jockeys’ in Florida—as has been the case,” Stirling added.  “It’s been a protracted insult to legitimate jockeys—some of the finest, most courageous and accomplished professional athletes in all of sports—and many of whom choose Florida as their annual headquarters.”

“Horsemen are ready to support our regulators in what we hope will be a new day toward legitimacy, profitability for our members and a proper return on horse racing’s positive economic impact,” Fisch said.

For more information about issues affecting Florida horsemen, go to:  www.FloridaHorsemen.com

Gretna “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Awarded Mystery License

Announcing “business as usual,” Gretna Racing LLC (“Gretna”) applied for and has received an amended racing license from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering yesterday, June 6, 2013, that authorized it to conduct back-to-back weekends of mysterious and unspecified “quadruple-header” events this month on June 22 and 29.

In the wake of a court ruling against Gretna last month concluding that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was illegal, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering ordered the North Florida facility not to conduct the contrived event, which was judged to be a definitive sidestep around Florida’s live horse racing requirements in order to enable Gretna to concurrently hold cardrooms and possibly slot machines.

But, in a snub to the court’s sharply worded 85-page ruling, Gretna immediately and publicly announced it would simply “tweak” the format of its spurious activities and continue on with its self-crafted events, which are not even sanctioned as legitimate barrel racing by the National Barrel Racing Association and other longstanding national organizations.

“Especially in light of the court ruling last month and the pending legislative gaming study underway, the public deserves transparency on the exact details of what is now taking place at Gretna’s facility,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), a statutory statewide organization of Florida Thoroughbred owners and trainers that joined with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) in supporting the FQHRA throughout the recent litigation.

“We have seen no indications of any construction taking place on a regulation Quarter Horse racetrack,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), which prevailed in last month’s landmark case. The FQHRA is Florida’s statutory arm of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), a national organization with 350,000 members worldwide that ensures proper racing regulation and safe, humane treatment of the horses involved.

“According to amended Gretna license, it appears they are holding eight ‘performances’ held over two Saturdays.  Bearing in mind that a Florida defines a ‘performance’ as eight individual ‘races,’ this means four days’ worth of performances are held in the afternoon and evening of one day.  Normally and historically, eight performances take place over eight different days,” explained Dr. Fisch, a nationally recognized equine veterinarian.

“A major concern is if the horses are performing more than once per day, then the health of the horse and, hence, that of the rider are both at risk,” Dr. Fisch added.  “In American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, horses race no more than once every fourteen days on average.  Six to eight races per year is an average schedule for a racehorse.   Knowing this, the health and welfare of the horse and rider should always be first and foremost to Florida’s pari-mutuel permitholders.  This is why it’s imperative that an independent group knowledgeable in equine health and welfare must represent horses and horsemen alike.  The FHBPA, FQHRA, AQHA and FTBOA are all established, respected groups that have proven they hold horses’ health as a major criteria on all fronts.”

FQHRA President Dr. Stephen D. Fisch, DVM

“We have seen no indications of any construction taking place on a regulation Quarter Horse racetrack at Gretna’s facility,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, FQHRA president

While Gretna’s cardrooms continued to operate, wagering on Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” has been recorded as low as $24 per day and contests there have often been canceled due to lack of interest. Just several months after the initial license was awarded with which “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was conducted, Gadsden County, in which the City of Gretna is located, approved the holding of a referendum to install slot machines at the Gretna Racing facility.

Gretna Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing Ruling–National News Coverage This Week

Gretna Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing

May 8, 2013

In a story Monday about a ruling involving the facility running barrel races in Gretna, the News Service incorrectly said, based on information from the source, that the parent company of Gretna Racing would appeal a DOAH ruling saying its license was invalid. Neither Gretna Racing, nor its parent company PCI Gaming, was actually a party to the case, and thus has no apparent standing to appeal.  An intervenor in the case is the Florida Quarter Horse Track Association, which shares leadership with Gretna, and of which Gretna Racing is a member. The actual party which lost was the state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.


Other media reports on the ruling follow . . .

Daily Racing Form:  Florida judge rejects track license

A Florida administrative law judge has struck down a decision by the state’s parimutuel regulator to award a license to a north Florida track that offers betting on barrel racing.


Miami Herald (Associated Press):  Panhandle barrel racing track loses legal fight

An administrative judge has ruled that state regulators ignored the law when they allowed a Panhandle horse track to use barrel racing as way to bring gambling to a small town near the state capital.


Palm Beach Post:  Administrative judge nixes barrel racing licenses

The state of Florida erred when it licensed barrel racing at two North Florida racetracks, an administrative law judge ruled today.


Sunshine State News:  Judge Pulls the Reins In on Florida Barrel-Race Gambling

An administrative court judge ruled Monday that a state agency exceeded its authority two years ago when it gave gambling licenses to two North Florida barrel horse racing tracks.


Blood Horse:  Judge Rules Barrel Racing in Violation of Law

An administrative judge has ruled that state regulators ignored the law when they allowed a Panhandle horse track to use barrel racing as way to bring gambling to a small town near the state capital.


The News Service of Florida via Florida Baptist Witness:  Judge rules Gretna barrel racing license violated state law

Horse barrel racing shouldn’t have been approved by a state agency for wagering in Florida, an administrative law judge ruled May 6.


WTVT and WOFL FOX-TV:  Panhandle barrel racing track loses legal fight

An administrative judge is ruling that the state was wrong to let a Panhandle track conduct barrel racing.


TheHorse.com:  Judge Rules Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing in Violation of Law

The ruling follows months of taxpayer-funded litigation in defense by of pari-mutuel barrel racing, for which there is no legislative authorization.


WFSU:  Florida Judge Strikes Down Gretna Barrel Racing

A Judge in Tallahassee has ruled that Florida can’t allow a certain type of horse racing. The ruling against what’s called “pari-mutuel barrel racing” came after 16 months of hearings.


Blog:  Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing, We Hardly Knew Ye

An administrative law judge (ALJ) in Florida has issued a final ruling that has determined the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) in Florida improperly issued a license for race dates to Gretna Entertainment for barrel racing.


U.S. Trotting/Standardbred Canada:  Ruling Against Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing

After 16 long months of hearings and legal challenges, an administrative law judge in Tallahassee has ruled that the State of Florida cannot allow the conduct of pari-mutuel barrel racing under current law.