Florida Barrel Racers, Jai Alai Challenge Rules

Soon after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation published changes to proposed rules for parimutuels, three challenges were filed. The North Florida Horsemen's Association, Second Chance Jai Alai and West Flagler Associates all accused regulators of overstepping their authority.

Just two days after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation published changes to proposed rules, which have been discussed for two years and included several concessions to parimutuels, three legal challenges were filed with the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The challenges accuse gambling regulators of overstepping their authority and question several proposed rules.

The North Florida Horsemen’s Association, which represents about 200 owners, trainers and riders in the barrel racing industry, associated with Gretna Racing in Gadsden County, have challenged rules that would prohibit obstacles on race courses, require jockeys to wear white pants and “racing colors” and require jockeys to wear protective helmets and boots.

The association’s lawyer, Donna Blanton, also questioned a proposed rule requiring all races to begin from a starting box or gate, which, she said, would put an end to flag drop races. In 2011 regulators granted a parimutuel license to Gretna Racing for the rodeo-style barrel racing. That led to the facility opening a card room. Later an appeals court ruled that the state was wrong to grant he barrel-racing license. The state and Gretna Racing then entered an agreement authorizing flag drop races under certain rules. The recent proposals would ban both the barrel and flag drops races, imposing “significant adverse economic impact” on the riders, owners and breeders, Blanton wrote. She added the agency does not have the statutory authority to enforce the rules but failed to provide a rationale for them.

Blanton wrote the rule is designed to “appease industry participants who seek to have quarter horse racing defined in such a way that supports their form of quarter horse racing to the exclusion of all others. The satisfaction of special interests cannot serve as a logical basis for the track rule.” Quarterhorse breeders, owners and trainers affiliated with other tracks have complained that the barrel racing and flag drop races allowed Gretna Racing to potentially begin operating slot machines.

Attorney John Lockwood filed a complaint on behalf of Ocala-based Second Chance Jai Alai, stating the proposed rules that would require jai alai operators to have minimum rosters of at least eight players and mandatory rotational systems of playing in matches. Lockwood wrote the new regulations would have a “dire impact” on the facility, which currently uses only two jai alai players to fulfill its performance requirements, allowing it to operate a card room. Lockwood noted nothing in Florida law addresses a minimum roster of players and a mandatory rotational system requirement, he wrote.

Lockwood also filed a challenge on behalf of West Flagler Associates, owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami, which holds a summer jai alai permit but has not yet constructed a fronton. West Flagler objected to proposed rules requiring outdoor frontons to be a certain size and be covered. Lockwood wrote the department lacks the authority to enforce  those rules, and that “the petitioner is unaware of any standardized size for jai alai courts.”

All three challenges also noted the proposed rules are invalid because the agency did not prepare a statement of regulatory costs required by state law for rules that would cost an industry of more than $200,000 in the first year. For example, Second Chance would have to spend at least $400,000 a year more for adding six players to its roster.

Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering spokeswoman Chelsea Eagle said, “The division values any input received from the industry during the rulemaking process. The division is reviewing the filed challenges to the proposed rules at this time.”