Florida Still Waiting on Barrel Racing Rules

Issues include the wagering format and an industry group's adminitrative challenge.

As Gretna Racing heads toward its Dec. 1 opening of Florida’s first pari-mutuel barrel racing meet, issues including the wagering format and a Quarter Horse industry group’s administrative challenge to Gretna Racing’s state-approved license remain unresolved.

On Nov. 15 the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering told The Blood-Horse it was “clarifying information pertaining to the types of wagers conducted” at the facility in Gretna, which is about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. On a separate issue, the Florida DPMW said that within several days it will determine whether it will request a state administrative hearing on the Quarter Horse industry petition that challenges its granting of Gretna Racing’s licenses for racing and poker.

If a hearing is held, it would be at least several months before an administrative law judge issues a ruling. Thus, a ruling against Gretna Racing would not jeopardize its plan to hold 40 barrel racing programs between Dec. 1, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2012.

But such a ruling could set a precedent for the Florida DPMW if other holders of Quarter Horse permits seek to use them for barrel racing.

Marc Dunbar, a 10% owner of Gretna Racing who has been its spokesman, could not be reached for comment. The Poarch Creek Indian Tribe, based in Atmore, Ala., owns 70% of Gretna Racing.

On the website for the facility known as Creek Entertainment, Gretna notes it plans to have head-to-head races, with each card featuring eight riders and horses competing through a bracket of 11 races. But it does not have any information about wagering, including takeouts.

The Florida DPMW Oct. 19 approved Gretna Racing's application for a Quarter Horse license. Gretna Racing plans to use the license to hold pari-mutuel barrel racing. After it begins its race meet, Gretna Racing will be eligible to receive a card room license.

Barrel racing is a rodeo-like event in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. It is popular in several parts of Florida and in numerous other states.

The National Barrel Horse Association is not aware of any states in which the sport is a pari-mutuel event, said Rick Hardy, its membership director. No drug testing is done at any events held by the association, the nation’s largest barrel racing organization, he said.

The Florida DPMW declined a request by The Blood-Horse for an interview with Leon Biegalski, director of that agency, or Joe Dillmore, its deputy director, on wagering, drug testing on horses, and other regulation of Gretna and other possible barrel racing meets. Instead, the Florida DPMW provided a written response to questions.

The Florida DPMW noted that Gretna “must advise the division in advance what types of wagering they will conduct. The division is in the process of clarifying information pertaining to the types of wagers conducted on these Quarter Horse races at Gretna.” It would not specify a deadline for approving Gretna’s wagering plans, and would not say if Gretna is considering any exotic bets.

The Florida DPMW referred to “Quarter Horse races” even though Gretna plans to hold barrel races. 
That agency previously said it had determined that Gretna Racing’s application met requirements of a state law on Quarter Horse racing because more than half of the horses will be Quarter Horses.

On Nov. 15, the Florida DPMW noted “the rules pertaining to the Quarter Horse races at Gretna will be the same as the requirements for Quarter Horse racing at any facility and are similar in nature to the rules for Thoroughbred racing.”

The Florida DPMW said that includes rules for establishing a tote system, the list of banned medications, and procedures for testing and licensing for trainers and owners. It did not list details, but provided links to Florida statutes. One specific answer was that “minors will not be allowed to participate in any wagering events” at Gretna.

As of Nov. 16, Hamilton Downs Horsetrack in Jasper, Fla., in an application filed Nov. 4, is the only other holder of a Florida Quarter Horse permit that has applied for a license to hold pari-mutuel barrel racing.  Jasper is about 75 miles west of Jacksonville and about 75 miles east of Tallahassee.

In early October the  Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association sent letters to the Florida DPMW and its parent Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, asking them to reject Gretna Racing’s application for pari-mutuel barrel racing. The two Thoroughbred groups have been joined in that opposition by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association. All three associations maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under the state’s laws.

The National Barrel Horse Association and its affiliate Florida Barrel Horse Association also have stated their opposition to possible pari-mutuel barrel racing meets.

On Nov. 3 the Florida Quarter Horse Racing and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association filed a petition with the Florida DPMW and its parent agency, challenging the issuance of licenses to Greta Racing. The petition states the reasons why the two associations believe barrel racing is not a legal use of a Florida Quarter Horse license and asks the Florida DPMW to issue an order denying Gretna’s license or to refer the matter to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.

The North Florida Horsemen’s Association, which is not affiliated with either Quarter Horse Association, has an agreement to provide Gretna Racing with horses.

Gretna has a population of about 1,750 and is in Gadsden County with a population of about 45,000. On Nov. 1 the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Gretna Racing’s request to authorize a referendum in which that county’s voters will decide whether to allow slot machines at its facility.

The question will be on the Gadsden County ballot Jan. 31, 2012, and will be open to all voters in that county. That day’s ballot also will include the Florida Republican presidential primary.

At the Nov. 1 meeting, Gretna Racing presented plans for a casino with up to 2,000 slot machines. It would be the first Florida pari-mutuel facility to have slot machines outside the southeastern counties of Miami-Dade and Broward.

Gretna Racing has been emphasizing the economic benefits it would provide in rural Gadsden County. On its website it provides details on how it plans to create 400 jobs—in construction and in permanent racing, poker room, and casino positions.