Gretna Resumes Racing, Plans Simulcasting

Barrel racing facility planning to offer Thoroughbred simulcasts.

Gretna Racing in Gretna, Fla., has resumed its controversial pari-mutuel barrel racing under a Quarter Horse license and it is preparing to start its first simulcast signals that could include Calder Casino & Race Course and other Thoroughbred tracks.

Gretna Racing, located 25 miles west of Tallahassee, held 40 rodeo-like barrel racing performances in December 2011 and January 2012. Research by The Blood-Horse indicates there have been no other recent pari-mutuel barrel racing meets in the United States.

As Gretna Racing begins its new season, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings is preparing to issue a ruling by the end of this November that could determine whether any of the state's other Quarter Horse license holders could conduct pari-mutuel barrel racing under those licenses.

The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association are supporting the case's plaintiffs, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association. They maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not legal under Florida law.

Because Gretna Racing has completed one pari-mutuel meet, it is eligible under Florida laws to take simulcasts.

On its website, Gretna Racing has a statement that simulcasting is "coming soon" without additional details.

Several employees in Gretna's poker room, reached by phone, declined to talk about the track's planned start date for simulcasting and its possible list of signals.

Marc Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney who represents Gretna Racing, did not return phone calls. He is a minority owner of the track's parent Creek Entertainment Gretna, whose majority owner is the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama.

"Calder plans on sending the signal to Gretna because they qualify under law," officials of  the Miami Gardens, Fla., track said in a  statement.

If Calder or the Florida HBPA declines to send the track's signal and its imported signals to Gretna. Calder would also have to stop transmission to most if not all  of the approximately 20 Florida horse tracks, Greyhound tracks and jai-alai frontons that take its signal.

Thus, the Florida HBPA will not use its veto power and prevent Calder from sending its live and imported signals to Gretna, said Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling.

Data from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering indicate the importance of intra-state wagering (ITW) to Calder and  the Florida HBPA, which has  the purse contract with Calder.

Wagering on Calder races totaled $4.4 million at other Florida pari-mutuels during the combined months of July and  August this year.

Those facilities'  total wagering on other Thoroughbred tracks, sent via Calder, was $49.2 million for the combined two months.

That $54 million in  bets was  about 45% of the $119 million in wagers at  Florida pari-mutuels during the two months, according to the Florida DPMW.

Those numbers illustrate the usual scene at many of the state's Greyhound tracks: The poker room is crowded and it appears through observation that there are as many, if not more, people betting on Thoroughbred simulcasts than on live races.

The Florida HPBA and its allies are concerned that any new  barrel racing tracks would focus on poker and simulcasts and have low racing costs while competing for gaming dollars with Florida's established racing and breeding industries.

Several Florida counties, including Gadsden where Gretna is located, have approved ballot issues that would permit casinos at their pari-mutuels. There is a widespread view that Florida's courts and/or its legislature would need to approve any expansion of casinos.

Ruling Pending
The Florida Division of Administrative Hearings finished its hearing on the Gretna case Aug. 23 in Tallahassee. Attorneys who represent the plaintiff Florida Quarter Horse associations said Administrative Judge Cathy Sellers indicated she plans to issue a ruling by Nov. 24.

If Sellers rules in favor of the plaintiffs, she could not revoke Gretna Racing's licenses or order a halt to racing or poker at the facility.

But she could tell the Florida DPMW and its parent, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to not renew Gretna's licenses and not issue other licenses for pari-mutuel barrel racing until the overall legality of the activity is reviewed.

A ruling in Gretna Racing's favor would not require any of those reviews or changes.

When asked about the Gretna case. Calder officials said in a statement: "There are a lot of opinions on barrel racing issues, but Calder does not have comment on supporting Gretna or questioning our state regulator."

In the administrative court, the Quarter Horse associations maintained that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under Florida laws. However, Gretna Racing had Quarter Horses as the majority of horses in its barrel races and thus met a state law's requirement for the breeds that can be used under a Quarter Horse license.

This year the Florida legislature did not pass a bill that would have specifically excluded barrel racing from pari-mutuel horse racing. It is anticipated the sponsors will introduce a similar bill for the 2013 session.

In addition to its three Thoroughbred tracks, Florida has Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park and Standardbred racing at Isle Casino & Racing at Pompano Park.

Total wagering on Gretna's races for 40 cards was $43,514 in 2011-2012, according to the Florida DPMW.

It has scheduled pari-mutuel barrel racing for 10 weekends through June 30, 2013. As of Oct. 11, the Florida DPMW did not have Gretna's Oct. 5-6 handle numbers readily available.

Gretna Racing's website has a notice that because of low attendance it has canceled a series of non-wagering "open barrel racing" days.

That  led the Florida HBPA to issue the following comment: "It is the lowest of ironies that Gretna Racing's card and poker room continues to stay open 365 days a year. This regulatory nightmare has meant the loss of countless Florida jobs and economic impact, not to mention the tax revenue that could have helped our economy if legitimate racing had otherwise been held at Gretna."