After the historic 2012 election, where millions of Floridians voted to expand legalized gambling in the state of Florida, the state legislature in Tallahassee formed a committee in both the House and Senate to discuss the current role of gambling in the state, as well as how to move forward with new initiatives in the future.
On August 14, the Florida House of Representatives made its announcement of 2014 House Select Committee on Gaming members, including State Representative Erik Fresen (R-Miami). Representative Fresen was a primary sponsor of a 2012 bill that sought to bring destination casino resorts to Florida, and drew the attention of the United Florida Horsemen, as well as other parimutuel organizations.
“In his efforts, Representative Fresen certainly approached the issue with considerable thought,” remarked Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling, who represents 6,000 horsemen who own and train Thoroughbred horses in the state of Florida.
The additional legislators assigned to the House Gaming Committee include former 2013 House Majority Leader/2014 State Affairs Chairman State Representative Steve Precourt (R-Orlando), State Representatives Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) and Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs).
“Florida’s horsemen are optimistic that the addition of senior House members and bipartisan input will provide the perspective and additional experience needed to craft beneficial public policy that will help our members’ businesses and jobs thrive in Florida,” Stirling said.
A small portion of slot machine revenues from Miami-Dade and Broward racinos is used to bolster prize money (purses) for which horsemen compete. After watching horse owners and trainers being lured to other states that offered larger, slot-bolstered purses, Florida horsemen supported the introduction of slot machines into the state for the sole purpose of increasing purses to ensure Florida remained competitive in the national horse racing circuit.
“Naturally, it gravely concerns our members that casino-only interests are now attempting diminish horse racing’s $2.2 billion dollar economic impact in Florida by framing our industry in a diminutive, negative way.” Stirling added.
As the legislators continue to battle over the future of legalized gambling in the state, cunning business people are attempting to stretch the current definition of parimutuel to the breaking point. Recently, the NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA’S Dara Kam reported on the denial of a Florida pari-mutuel permit to Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings. The subject litigation has been spearheaded by David Romanik, who is also a co-owner of Gretna Racing LLC, a North Florida pari-mutuel licensee that continues to hold contrived “flag drop” contests, despite a scathing court ruling declaring events such as “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to be illegal.
Ft. Meyers Real Estate Holdings, a company for which Romanik is listed as an officer and registered agent, first attempted to secure a Gretna-like permit in Lee County (southwest Florida), then in Miami-Dade County, and then in Florida City (near Homestead). Just one month before issuing the 2011 Gretna racing license, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering lost a battle over Romanik’s legal fees in Ft. Meyers Real Estate Holdings, LLC v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DOAH Case No. 11-1722FC) To read the entire August 6, 2013 Ft. Meyers ruling, click here.
Kam’s investigative report illuminates the "tangled web of relationships among gambling lobbyists, regulators and politicians"—such as the now-incarcerated Jim Greer—involved in the network of pari-mutuel permits under which phony horse racing continues to be licensed and perpetrated in Florida.
The ouster of longtime Florida pari-mutuel regulator Dave Roberts explained this week in Kam’s story was preceded by Mary Ellen Klas’ 2012 Miami Herald report detailing the departure of then-Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Milton Champion, who refused to approve Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” in 2011.
Champion said he was subsequently asked to resign by Florida Governor Rick Scott’s then-Chief of Staff Steve Mcnamera—who was employed in 2009 by then-Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, the same firm at which Marc Dunbar--another Gretna co-owner--worked. Dunbar, a lawyer/lobbyist, was also involved in the Ft. Meyers Real Estate Holdings saga as an expert witness. To access the Pennington bill to Romanik for legal work in the 2011 Ft. Myers case, click here.
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