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Administrative judge nixes barrel racing licenses

Monday, May 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The state of Florida erred when it licensed barrel racing at two North Florida racetracks, an administrative law judge ruled today.

Judge John G. Van Landingham’s 85-page ruling is the latest twist in a drawn-out legal battle over whether barrel racing, until two years ago typically a rodeo event, is a legitimate gambling activity in Florida.

Van Landingham’s final order is a victory for the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, which challenged the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that oversees gambling in the state over issuing the license for barrel racing under a quarter horse permit to Gretna Racing in 2011.

Barrel racing was never contemplated by the Legislature or by voters when they approved other horse racing in a constitutional amendment in 1968, Van Landingham ruled. Instead, DBPR issued the license without adopting a rule authorizing barrel racing, he found.

“Florida administrative law does not allow an agency to establish such a policy stealthily by the issuance of expedient licenses; this is equally true whether the policy is highly controversial or widely praised,” Van Landingham wrote.

DBPR spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said the agency is reviewing the ruling.

Florida is the only place in the country where gamblers can legally bet on barrel racing, where horses race against the clock instead of each other at the same time. DBPR also issued a barrel racing license to Hamilton Downs Horsetrack near Jacksonville.

“A race ‘between’ horses, therefore, is a contest pitting horse against horse that takes place during the same span of time, beginning for all with a single starting signal and ending when the last horse crosses the finish line. The horses must perform simultaneously, not sequentially, which means that they are connected, not only by the fact of being opponents, and not only by the fact of competing on the same race course, but also temporally,” Van Landingham wrote.

The ruling raises questions about not only the barrel races at the Gretna track, about 25 miles from Tallahassee, but about the more lucrative cardroom at the track. And it also casts doubt on whether the facility will be able to offer slot machine gambling despite voters’ approval of a local referendum allowing the slots.

Bondi, state regulators say no to slots at Gretna and raise doubts about Palm Beach

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State regulators won’t give a Panhandle horsetrack permission to have slot machines without legislative approval or changes to the state constitution based on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday.

Her non-binding opinion also puts in doubt a local bill Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club are seeking to get slots approved at the dog track. A referendum on the slots will go before county voters in November.

Bondi issued the opinion in response to a question from state gambling regulators regarding Creek Entertainment Gretna racetrack in Gadsden County. Voters there and in Washington County will decide on Jan. 31 whether they want to allow their local pari-mutuels to offer slots, something the Gretna owners are banking on.

But Bondi said the referenda would only be valid if they are first authorized by the Legislature or in the state Constitution, and Department of Business and Professional Regulation officials said they would comply with her opinion.

Lawyers for PBKC and the Gretna track rejected Bondi’s opinion, accusing her of being biased against the slot machines and promising that the courts will ultimately decide on the issue.

“This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an Attorney General has opined, for political issues, on a gambling issue outside of their authority,” attorney Marc Dunbar, one of the owners of the Gretna track, said in a statement. “Fortunately the Supreme Court has ruled on many occasions that these advisory opinions have no binding affect and more times than not are eventually rejected by Florida courts. I look forward to meeting her in court where law, not politics, will ultimately decide the issue.”

Gambling bill rewrite tweaked. Changes tax rates, keeps Internet cafes alive and stays out of barrel racing brouhaha

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff‘s latest rewrite of a sweeping gambling measure includes a few major changes but keeps intact the voter approval required for three casinos anywhere in the state and still would allow for Florida’s existing pari-mutuels to offer Las Vegas-style slot machines, again if voters give the thumbs up.

But Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, does make one big change in the 170-page amendment filed late Friday afternoon – instead of completely doing away with the “Internet cafes,” it would regulate them. The so-called “casinos on the corner,” operating now as sweepstakes games, would have to register with the state’s new gambling department (also included in her strike-all amendment), put up a bond and certify that the games comply with laws already on the books. A draft version of the measure released two weeks ago would have outlawed the Internet cafes that critics say prey on the poor. Palm Beach County commissioners voted yesterday to ban new Internet cafes from popping up in unincorporated areas.

The new version of the bill (SB 710) would still allow the state’s existing dog and horse tracks – including Palm Beach Kennel Club – and jai-alai frontons to offer slots if voters approve. But instead of having to spend $100 million to upgrade their facilities in exchange for the slots, the pari-mutuel operators would have to pay a one-time $125 million licensing fee.

The catch-all bill also does away with the tax parity the racinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties had hoped for. Now, the South Florida pari-mutuels would have an 18 percent tax rate on slots – down from the current 35 percent – but not until the proposed casinos are up and running. The casinos would pay a tax rate of 10 percent.

Unlike Bogdanoff’s recent draft, her latest proposal does nothing about barrel racing, now an authorized racing format at a Panhandle track and under consideration at another. Gov. Rick Scott has asked lawmakers to specifically address barrel racing, saying he does not believe the legislature intended to permit it. Her new measure also would not buy back four pari-mutuel permits but it would bar any new pari-mutuel licenses from being issued after July.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is slated to vote on her bill Monday afternoon, the day before the 2012 legislative session officially begins.

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