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Lapses in Florida pari-mutuel regulation are no surprise to Florida's Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse owners, trainers and breeders, who have been fighting now for years to get regulators and the current administration to stop the rash of phony horse racing that's spreading card rooms and possibly slots throughout the state at the cost of our billion-dollar industry--all to no avail, and without legislative authorization or public input. We invite our legislators to question that as well!
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A fair question by HMMM . . . Let us illustrate by pointing out Texas, for example--the largest-Quarter Horse-producing state in the nation--where breeding farms are multi-million dollar full-time employers. In fact, one accredited racing American Quarter Horse Texas farm with 60 full-time employees bred 1,800 mares last year. Breeding fees start at $2,500, with the higher stallions commanding $35,000 a pop. Assuming an average stud fee of $5,000, farms like these can turn millions of dollars of business annually. Accredited racing AQHA Quarter Horse syndication deals produce eye-popping price tags like a recent $12 million stallion who commanded $300,000 for each of his 40 shares. What's more, a recent Oklahoma study that found accredited Quarter Horse racing has a $3.2 billion dollar annual statewide economic impact there. Last year, one Oklahoma farm saw traffic of more than 2,600 horses, 1,200 mares of which were also bred on the premises, and others that even originated overseas. Together, they ate more than 800 tons of hay during the same time period, among the many other expenses and staffing required to run the operation. That's the kind of business that can be developed in Florida if we use Quarter Horse pari-mutuel permits properly.
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"The United Florida Horsemen welcomes the Florida Attorney General’s opinion on slot referenda, which emphasizes our collective support for the responsible expansion of gambling," said Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Kent Stirling. "Obviously, any slot referendums based on questionable or unlawfully awarded pari-mutuel licenses should never be entertained under any circumstances. Such activity does not represent the legitimate pari-mutuel industry in Florida, which has carefully adhered to Florida laws and regulations in any past expansion, and strongly condemns any activity to the contrary. Further, our respective industries have entirely underwritten programs to ensure responsible gambling statewide."
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Despite its growing slot machine expansion crisis, the State of Florida has awarded Gulfstream Park a license to conduct two (2) Quarter Horse races on December 31, 2011 and January 1, 2012, thus meeting the two-year statutory requirement to install an additional 2,000 slot machines without legislative authority or local referendum. Gulfstream is already authorized for 2,000 slot machines under its existing Thoroughbred permit. Now, it would be free to install an additional 2,000 machines, for a total of 4,000 slot machines. Presently, the track operates 860 machines that only earned a daily average “drop” of $151 each during the beginning of this fiscal year. By industry standards, this is considered to be poor performance. Gulfstream’s new license, #536, was approved on December 19, 2011 by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering under the track’s Quarter Horse pari-mutuel racing permit, which it has held for years, but not activated.
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While the State of Florida grapples with a $2 billion budget deficit, one of its top regulatory agencies is simultaneously expending untold taxpayer funds to escalate and exacerbate a costly legal battle to defend the expansion of gambling, to which Florida’s top-ranking state legislators have repeatedly voiced their increasing opposition during the past several weeks. In defense of Gretna Racing, LLC--a private entity with an Alabama Indian Tribe as a majority owner together with Gulfstream Park lobbyist Marc Dunbar and former Gulfstream Park attorney David Romanik--the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation released dozens of pages of publicly-funded litigation designed to protect the very situation that the Florida Legislature is now vigorously debating how to curtail. With the Cabinet members now having publicly declared their opposition to the expansion of gambling through destination resorts, the State of Florida’s attitude toward the unfettered proliferation of gambling has been greatly clarified. But, to the chagrin of its sponsors, the intent of the would-be destination resort legislation’s proposed gaming commission had already been unexpectedly usurped by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s (DPPR’s) highly questionable and unilateral award of a racing license to Gretna Racing LLC. As expected, the dubious license was ultimately used for purpose of introducing “pari-mutuel barrel racing.” Constituting a brand new gambling product, the license was awarded without enabling legislation, proper regulatory hearings or public input. As expected, Gretna Racing officials immediately used their new license to secure a slot machine referendum in Gadsden County—a loophole-laden legal maneuver that quickly brought copycat requests from other small pari-mutuel permitholders. So outraged were top legislative leaders at Gretna Racing’s actions that, in a Senate Committee on Regulated Industries workshop last week, some called for the need to solve the “Gretna Racing problem” before taking up the destination resort bills. “As the people’s regulator, it is unconscionable that the DBPR is using the public dime to finance protracted litigation to protect its unilateral expansion of gambling, when the Legislature is making it quite clear that this is not the direction it wants for the State of Florida,” remarked Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling. “What amazes me is that the State of Florida is actually financing failure by strangling off what could be thousands of jobs and exponentially greater wagering if Gretna Racing were to simply have adhered to legitimate Quarter Horse racing,” added FHBPA President Phil Combest, who also noted the startling disparity in opening day handle between Gretna Racing ($2,581) and Gulfstream Park ($4,837,605—constitutes a 22% increase). These numbers were generated literally within two days of one another. The comparison that the Gulfstream Park and Gretna Racing facilities were the same as one another was made on December 2 by Romanik in an interview with internationally known horse racing writer Ray Paulick. Combest reminded that Florida regulations stipulate that pari-mutuel permitholders must demonstrate that they can protect the flow of revenue to the State. “So we’re killing the revenue we could have had with legitimate racing, killing jobs in the horse racing industry, hammering the gravestones with taxpayer-funded litigation and paying Florida legislators to contemplate the whole thing,” he said. “To me, that’s the real government waste.”
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Dec 2, 2011