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As lawmakers continue to debate, gambling set to expand in the state of Florida

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On Monday, March 3, state lawmakers in Tallahassee gathered once again to mull about the idea of expanded gambling in the state of Florida. However, the business of making money in games of chance doesn't always wait for the law to catch up with projects on the ground, and a strange construction project in South Marion County has the area near The Villages buzzing about whether the structure is a card room or a horse racetrack.

According to Florida horse racing industry sources, unknown horse-related competitive events will take place there on March 17, despite the fact that "pari-mutuel barrel racing" was twice declared illegal by a court of law. Speaking on behalf of nearly 7,000 collective racehorse owners and trainers, Florida horse racing industry officials confirm the project is NOT Thoroughbred racing. And it's definitely NOT American Quarter Horse racing, either.

"No one really knows exactly what type of contrived horse activity the South Marion project is intending to conduct. We can only hope that more phony racing has not been used as an excuse to allow a year 'round card room," said Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling. "It's a good example of how unchecked gambling is expanding statewide at the direct expense of Florida's lucrative horse racing industry."

The American Quarter Horse Association and its Florida chapter, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA) report that no one has contacted either organization in reference to the South Marion project to apply for accreditation as legitimate Quarter Horse racing.

In a story written by Matt Hegarty of the Daily racing Forum, he described an incident in 2012, when an elderly horsemen was duped into renting his American Quarter Horses for what he thought was a practice session under the auspices of the South Marion Real Estate Holdings pari-mutuel permit. He reported seeing Florida regulators and law enforcement officials on hand at the event, which made him initially believe what he was doing was legitimate horse racing, but upon later consideration, he felt he had been misled.

"At stake are the many jobs created by our members, the vast majority of whom are small businesses," Stirling said. "We are substantially concerned with the ultimate outcome."

One can easily understand why developers of parimutuels are eager to get on the horse racing bandwagon. On Feb. 16, a new single-day wagering record of nearly half a million dollars was set for real American Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park, representing an increase in business of nearly 20 percent in 2014 alone to an average of 7,500 visitors a day. Even more notable, this week’s record marks a whopping 30 percent increase from a previous year’s high mark.

Hialeah Park is the only licensed pari-mutuel facility offering American Quarter Horse Association-sanctioned racing--the only legitimate Quarter Horse racing currently taking place in Florida.

The FQHRA’s growing success at Hialeah has been credited to large, competitive fields featuring the nation’s top AQHA racing Quarter Horses, owners, trainers and jockeys. Hialeah Park also has worked to establish its accredited Quarter Horse brand identity at TVG, an internationally known horse racing channel.

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