QH Group Asks Court to Rescind Calder Permit

Group wants the Calder permit revoked and the Tropical Park permit suspended.

In a suit filed July 21 in Tallahassee, Fla., Hialeah Park and four other Quarter Horse permit holders are asking a state court to take away Calder Casino & Race Course’s two Thoroughbred permits.

Florida Quarter Horse Track Association, the plaintiff group, maintains that the state laws that granted Calder its Calder permit and later authorized transfer of the Tropical Park permit are illegal because of conflicts with the Florida constitution and other state laws. Plaintiffs maintain that laws needed approval by local voters, as well as the Florida legislature.

The Quarter Horse group’s suit asks the state Circuit Court in Leon County to revoke the Calder permit and suspend the Tropical Park permit. The plaintiffs also are asking the court to take from Calder “all rights flowing” from each permit.

Their suit is the latest legal action in a battle among several Miami-Fort Lauderdale area pari-mutuels over ongoing operations and plans for expansion.

The four other plaintiffs in the suit are companies that have permits from Florida regulators to conduct Quarter Horse meets in the state. None have conducted those meets.

David Romanik, the plaintiffs’ attorney, is a partner in two of the plaintiff companies and is a former president of Gulfstream Park.

Officials of Calder said the track and its parent Churchill Downs Inc., have a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.

Defendants in the suit are Calder, Tropical Park, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and its Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.  The two state agencies regulate pari-mutuel facilities and their casinos in Florida.

Florida Quarter Horse Track Association filed its suits within five weeks after two suits in the same Tallahassee court, in which Calder and two other Miami-Dade County pari-mutuels are seeking to prevent Hialeah Park from building a casino.

The Calder suit, filed June 18, and a similar suit by Miami Jai-Alai and Greyhound track Magic City Casino, filed June 30, http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/57750/two-companies-attempt-to-block-hialeah-casino are challenging a 2010 Florida gaming law provision that allows Hialeah to apply for a casino, that would have Las Vegas-style slot machines.

The suits maintain that a casino at Hialeah would violate the Florida constitution because Hialeah was not specifically listed among pari-mutuel facilities that voters approved for slots in referendums in 2004 and 2008. The listed facilities met the referendums’ requirements of holding live pari-mutuel events in 2002 and 2003.

Hialeah, which held its most recent Thoroughbred meet in 2001, did not have pari-mutuel events in 2002 or 2003.

Romanik said the Quarter Horse group filed its suit to support Hialeah and challenge the legal basis on which he said it believes “that Calder is attempting to assert a monopoly” and prevent competition.

Calder opened a casino last Jan. 22.  The four other Florida pari-mutuels with casinos are Gulfstream, Magic City, harness track Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park, and Greyhound track Mardi Gras Casino. Miami-Dade and Broward are the only Florida counties in which pari-mutuels can have casinos with slot machines.

Hialeah obtained a Quarter Horse permit last year and returned to racing with a Quarter Horse-only meet from Nov. 28, 2009, through Feb. 3, 2010.  The last Florida track to hold a Quarter Horse meet was Pompano Park, in 1991.

Hialeah has applied with the Florida DPMW to hold a 22-day Quarter Horse meet from Nov. 26, 2010, through Jan. 2, 2011.  By holding that meet it would be eligible to build and open a casino, under the 2010 law’s provision that Calder, Magic City, and Miami Jai-Alai have challenged.

Romanik is a partner in Gretna Racing, in Gadsden County, and in ELH Jefferson, in Jefferson County. Paul Micucci, another former Gulfstream president, also is a partner in the two companies.

Both locations are in the Tallahassee area. Romanik said he hopes to open one location, but not both during the second half of 2011.

Debary Real Estate Holding in Volusia County and Marion Real Estate Holding in Marion County are the other plaintiffs and members of the Florida Quarter Horse Track Association.

Romanik said that officials of several other companies that have applied for or been granted Quarter Horse permits are considering membership in that association.

Unless they face other restrictions under Florida laws, Quarter Horse tracks that hold annual meets would be able to have poker rooms and offer simulcast wagering that would include Thoroughbred tracks.

In 1969, the Florida legislature passed a law that granted Calder its Calder permit. In 1971, it passed a law that authorized the transfer of Tropical Park’s permit to Calder.

Tropical Park held its last races in January 1972.

Calder races continuously for just over eight months each year. It holds its annual Calder Meet from late April through mid-October and its Tropical at Calder Meet from mid-October until early January.

A central contention in the Quarter Horse group’s suit is that the laws granting Calder the two permits are illegal because they did not receive approval from voters in the county where Tropical Park and Calder are located.

Thus, the suit maintains they are “special laws” that are not legal in Florida.

On the counter side, the suits filed against Hialeah in June maintain that the 2010 law’s provision that authorizes a casino at Hialeah is an illegal “special law.”  Calder and the two other plaintiffs cited a provision of the Florida Constitution that such a special law cannot be passed unless it “is approved by voters” in the area affected.