A state appeals court in Tallahassee, Fla., Feb. 7 upheld an administrative court's ruling that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering violated a state rule-making process in 2011 when it granted Gretna Racing LLC a Quarter Horse license to hold pari-mutuel barrel racing.
The ruling by the First District Court of Appeal in effect will continue to prohibit the Florida DPMW from allowing Gretna Racing or any other Florida entities from holding pari-mutuel barrel racing. Gretna Racing has until Feb. 15 to ask the appeals court for a rehearing on its decision.
Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents Gretna Racing, couldn't be immediately reached for comment. He is a minority owner of Gretna Racing, which is located in Gretna, Fla., about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. The Poarch Creek Tribe, based in Alabama, is the majority owner of Gretna Racing.
The appeals court agreed with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, which on May 6 ordered the Florida DPMW to not allow pari-mutuel barrel racing at Gretna Racing. The administrative court acted on a formal complaint filed by Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association.
In June 2013 the Florida DPMW allowed Gretna Racing to hold pari-mutuel "flag drop" races with Quarter Horses. Gretna Racing continues to have a poker room and daily simulcasts that includes Thoroughbred signals.
In December 2011 Gretna Racing began holding what is widely believed to be the first pari-mutuel barrel racing in the United States under its DPMW-issued Quarter Horse license. By using Quarter Horses in its races, Gretna Racing met what the Florida DPMW deemed to be a criterion for a license.
The Florida HBPA and Florida QHRA have maintained that Gretna's pari-mutuel barrel racing is a low-cost way of gaining approval for a poker room and taking simulcasts, as well as a possible casino if Florida allows them at pari-mutuel outlets outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
In its Feb. 7 ruling the appeals court said: "The issue in this case is not whether barrel match racing can be or should be considered 'horse racing, for purposes of the state's pari-mutuel wagering laws. Instead, the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida DPMW's) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of Quarter Horse racing is an unadopted rule."
The appeals court said it agreed with the following decision the administrative court issued in May 2013: "A policy which allows pari-mutuel wagering to be conducted on a previously unrecognized activity by deeming that activity to be 'Quarter Horse racing' is without question a statement of general applicability having the force and effect of law. Florida administrative law does not allow an agency to establish such a policy stealthily by the issuance of expedient licenses; this is equally true whether the policy is highly controversial or widely praised."
"To be legal and enforceable, a policy which operates as law must be formally adopted in public, through the transparent process of the rulemaking procedure," Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling said. "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 card room 365 days a year."
Stirling said the aftermath of pari-mutuel barrel racing is that the Florida DPMW immediately pivoted and issued a license to Gretna for "flag drop" racing, which he called "another contrived event conjured up for the same exploitative purpose."
"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," Stirling said.