Florida Court Deals Gretna Racing a Setback

One-time barrel racing operation has been seeking to install slot machines.

Gretna Racing, a northern Florida facility that won a pari-mutuel license to offer Quarter Horse barrel racing as a steppingstone to apply for slot machines, was dealt a setback when the Florida First District Court of Appeal Oct. 2 reversed its earlier opinion.

In May the same court ruled in favor of Gretna, but one of the judges that issued the majority opinion retired. At that time a request from several parties, including the state Attorney General's office and Gov. Rick Scott, had been filed for a rehearing by the same court, and the request was granted.

Barrel racing has been vehemently opposed by the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, and other industry groups on the grounds it makes a mockery of the intent of pari-mutuel law in the state. They also claim its sole purpose is to win approval for gaming.

Gulfstream Park, Calder Casino & Race Course, Pompano Park, and two Greyhound tracks were permitted to install slot machines under a 2004 constitutional amendment and county referendums. That law expressly limited slots to Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Gadsden County, where Gretna Racing is located, held a non-binding vote in January 2012 that showed a majority of voters supported slots. The First District Court of Appeal in its latest opinion noted the 2004 referendum dealt only with Miami-Dade and Broward counties and said "the question in this statutory interpretation case is whether the legislature intended to allow expansion of slot machines via local referendum in all other Florida counties in like manner through a 2009 enactment" that allowed Hialeah Park, in Miami-Dade, to install slots.

When the constitutional amendment passed, Hialeah Park didn't have a racing license. It has since been licensed for Quarter Horse racing and built a slots casino.

Gretna Racing is primarily owned by the Poarch Creek Indians. The tribe said it anticipates the state Supreme Court will address the issue, and First District Court of Appeal has indicated in its opinion the high court should tackle the matter.

Judge Robert Benton, who dissented in the Oct. 2 opinion, said "the heart of the present case" is statutory language that led counties to believe they have the right to hold referenda on slot machines. He said Gadsden County complied with all requirements for placing the question on the ballot and had "clear, statutory authority" to do so.