Vote Set on Slots for Florida Barrel Racers

The question will be placed on the Gadsden County ballot Jan. 31, 2012.

At a meeting the night of Nov. 1, the Gadsden County Florida Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Gretna Racing LLC’s request to authorize a referendum in which that county’s voters will decide whether to allow slot machines at the facility where Gretna Racing is preparing for the state’s first pari-mutuel barrel racing meet.

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

According to a report in the Tallahassee Democrat, at the Nov.1 meeting Gretna Racing and its parent Creek Entertainment Gretna presented plans for a casino with up to 2,000 slot machines and the commissioners voted to authorize the referendum.

Gretna Racing’s facility in Gretna, Fla., about 25 miles west of Tallahassee, would be the first Florida pari-mutuel to have slot machines outside the southeast Florida counties of Miami-Dade and Broward.

As reported by The Blood-Horse, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on Oct. 19 approved Gretna

Racing’s application to use its Quarter Horse permit to conduct pari-mutuel barrel racing at its facility. Two prominent Florida Thoroughbred associations and a Quarter Horse association had asked that regulatory agency to reject the application.

In its request to the Gadsden County Commission, Gretna Racing cited a provision in a 2010 Florida law that allows any Florida county to hold a referendum to allow slot machines at pari-mutuels in its county. A pari-mutuel must run the minimum number of required events for at least two consecutive years to be eligible for slot machines.

Gretna Racing plans to hold 40 race cards, the minimum required, between Dec. 1, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2012. It also will have a poker room that can be open up to 365 days a year.

The Poarch Creek Tribe, based in Atmore, Ala., owns 70% of Gretna Racing. That American Indian tribe owns and operates three casinos in Alabama. The Gretna property is on land the Poarch Creeks purchased, and not on Tribal land. Thus, its proposed slot machines would be subject to Florida laws and not to federal laws on Indian gaming.

Gretna has a population of about 1,750 and is in a rural county with population of about 45,000.
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, based in Augusta, Ga., is not aware of any pari-mutuel barrel racing in the United States

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 agency the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, asking them to reject Gretna Racing’s application for pari-mutuel barrel racing. The two Thoroughbred groups were 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.

Those three groups also expressed concerns that approval of the Gretna Racing application could lead other Quarter Horse permit holders in Florida to use barrel racing as a low-cost route to opening potentially lucrative poker rooms.

In its application to conduct barrel racing, Gretna Racing said it will have Quarter Horses as the majority of participants in its barrel races.

Under a provision in Florida’s pari-mutuel law, a Quarter Horse permit holder can have a mixed meet provided that at least half of its races are Quarter Horse races. Thoroughbreds are among breeds eligible for other races in those meets.

In a written response to The Blood-Horse, the Florida DPMW said it determined that Gretna Racing’s application to hold pari-mutuel barrel races met the requirements of that provision.