The Associated Press
December 2, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Opponents of gambling on quarter horse barrel racing in Florida won another preliminary legal victory Friday as the number of lawsuits, appeals and administrative complaints filed over the issue continues to grow.
Administrative Law Judge Cathy Sellers said during a conference call with the parties that she would let traditional flat track quarter horse racing interests amend their complaint in a way that could keep that case going even if they lose another in Circuit Court.
Besides those two cases, three others related to barrel racing are pending in an appellate court.
“It’s beginning to sound like the 12 days of Christmas,” said Ralf Michels, a lawyer for the state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. “I just don’t know how many lawyers are filing. I don’t know what number to put on that in the song.”
Michels noted the division sometimes has sided with the barrel racing advocates and at other times with opponents.
The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association contend that betting on barrel racing, a women’s rodeo sport that requires far fewer horses and riders than flat track racing, violates state racing rules. They argue it’s an attempt by pari-mutuel facilities to qualify on the cheap for more lucrative card rooms and possibly slot machines.
A recent appellate court ruling saying the Legislature can permit slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities such as dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons, across the state has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
The Florida Quarter Horse Track Association supports barrel racing and contends it’s a legitimate form of gaming although never before done in Florida.
The administrative complaint alleges the state failed to adopt a rule on barrel racing before permitting it at a track in Gretna. Barrel racing was held for the first time on Thursday in the Panhandle town west of Tallahassee.
The revised complaint adds two new parties, a pair of individuals who race quarter horses on traditional flat tracks.
It also adds new arguments for why the racing and breeders and owners associations have a right to challenge barrel racing.
The track owners group had opposed the amended complaint. If it holds up, though, the administrative case can continue no matter what happens in the Circuit Court case in which the track association is challenging the constitutionality of two state laws the barrel racing opponents cited as giving them a right to file their challenge.
One of those laws also gives the racing association a virtual veto over card rooms and slot machines at quarter horse tracks. The outcome, therefore, would still be important even if it doesn’t stop the administrative challenge.
The racing and owners and breeders associations also have asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to reverse decisions by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to deny their requests for three administrative hearings on the Gretna barrel racing, whether Gretna Racing and add a card room and a request for racing dates by Hamilton Downs Horsetrack east of Tallahassee.
The appellate court has given the division and track association until Tuesday to respond in writing.
The division, meanwhile, has sided with the racing and breeders and owners associations in their request to delay a hearing on the administrative appeal, now set for mid-December, until January or February. The track group opposes the delay. Sellers has not yet ruled on the request.