County Set to Vote on Florida Barrel Racing

Request is an agenda item for a Nov. 1 meeting in Gadsden County, Fla.

Gretna Racing is asking the government of Gadsden County, Florida, to authorize a referendum in which that county’s voters would decide whether to allow slot machines at the facility where it is preparing for the state’s first pari-mutuel barrel racing meet.

Gretna Racing’s request is an agenda item for a Nov. 1 meeting of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners. 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.

On Oct. 19, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering 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

Marc Dunbar, a 10% owner of Gretna Racing and its attorney, could not be reached for immediate comment Oct. 31. Arthur Lawson, Gadsden County’s interim county administrator, also could not be reached for immediate comment.

Gretna Racing is asking that the referendum be placed on a county ballot as soon as Jan. 31, 2012. Other issues on that day’s ballot would be the Florida Republican presidential primary.

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.

Two prominent Florida Thoroughbred horsemen’s associations were among groups that had asked the Florida DPMW to not allow Gretna Racing to use its Quarter Horse permit for pari-mutuel barrel racing. 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. 

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 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.