Citing “low attendance,” Gretna Racing cancels barrel racing; cardroom, poker allowed to continue; slots loom

By on October 8, 2012

Opening for “pari-mutuel barrel racing” on Friday, despite an imminent court ruling on the legality of its racing license, Creek Entertainment Gretna concurrently announced on its Web site that its remaining “open races” for 2012 have been canceled “due to low attendance.”

The North Florida gaming entity was awarded the license by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering nearly one year to date, allowing it to conduct the brand new gambling product of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” without enabling legislation, regulatory hearings or public input.

“It is the lowest of ironies that Gretna Racing’s card and poker room continues to stay open 365 days a year,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents over 6,000 Florida Thoroughbred horsemen.

“This regulatory nightmare has meant the loss of countless Florida jobs and economic impact, not to mention the tax revenue that could have helped our economy if legitimate racing had otherwise been held at Gretna,” Stirling continued.  “Even worse, hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds have been expended by the State of Florida to defend Gretna’s questionable license award.”

“Because the spurious ‘Gretna Model’ has been allowed to continue by Florida’s Legislature and pari-mutuel regulators, permitholders across the state are lining up to bastardize legitimate racing and capitalize on its fundamental platform of side-stepping Florida’s legal requirements for live racing in order to have slot machines,” FHBPA President Phil Combest explained.  “This includes every single Quarter Horse permitholder except Hialeah Park, the only place at which legitimate Quarter Horse racing is being held in Florida.”

“Pari-mutuel barrel racing” has failed so badly, that wagering handles as low as $24 per day have been recorded.  Because Florida does not legally define what a “horse race” is, regulators allowed Gretna to proceed, without regard for its impact on Florida’s $2.2 billion dollar horse racing industry and the 50,000 jobs it creates annually.

 Meanwhile, legitimate Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park, the only Florida racing legally accredited by the American Quarter Horse Association for its high standards, averaged 4,100 daily attendees and handled an average of $200,000 for each day of its 2011-2012 race meet.  Because of Hialeah Park’s success, purses for legitimate Quarter Horse have risen to an all-time Florida high of over $4 million dollars for 2012-2013.

Nearly 1,000 horses were housed at Hialeah during its Quarter Horse meet.  In contrast, at Gretna, the entire 2011-2012 season used approximately 50 horses—thus eliminating the many of the jobs that would have otherwise been generated there and in the local horse breeding industry.

At least 800 documented licensed personnel are employed at the Hialeah meet, while Gretna has a comparable 38 documented licensees.

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