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So Exactly How is the World’s Only “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Facility Doing?

February 17, 2012
This is a follow up to our article in the winter edition of the Horsemen’s Journal about “pari-mutuel barrel racing.”  Since almost every horse track in Florida owns a Quarter Horse Permit, there is great fear by all breeds of Florida horsemen that their respective track will use their Quarter Horse permit to conduct barrel racing and eliminate the rightful horsemen from receiving their fair share of card room revenue and the very sizable slots revenue for their future purses.
Barrel racing is taking place in Northern Florida at the Creek Entertainment facility in Gadsden County.  This horse racing industry job killer is the brain child of Gulfstream Park’s Lobbyist/Lawyer, Marc  Dunbar, and his partner former Gulfstream Park Lawyer, David Romanik, who according to his Creek Entertainment bio was the  “former president of Gulfstream Park, where he ran the most successful race meet in the facility’s long history.”  My recollection is that Mr. Romanik only presided over the ill-fated Hialeah-at-Gulfstream Park race meet in 2000.
This facility located in the small town of Gretna recently operated a “pari-mutuel barrel racing” meet in both December and January.  This then technically qualified them as having run for two consecutive years which would permit them the right to have slots.  The slots referendum passed in Gadsden County on January 31st.  Simply put, “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was nothing but a shortcut to a card room and slots which can only take place at a pari-mutuel facility that has operated for two consecutive years.
Mr. Romanik then formed his own horsemen’s group, the North Florida Horsemen’s Association  (NFHA),  whereby his horsemen and horsewomen gave away all their rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act (IHA) for the next eight years.  All jockey/riders are described in this contract as independent contractors with no liability to Gretna Racing beyond a token $100,000 insurance policy.  Only those who pay membership dues can compete but anyone can be denied entries or be excluded from the grounds at the sole and absolute discretion of Gretna Racing.  Further, the NFHA Pledge Card authorizes the NFHA to represent its members exclusively in all negotiations with Gretna Racing relative to the payment of purses, and should you wish to revoke this authorization it will be effective 180 days after your written revocation.
I’m sure that when Mr. Romanik is negotiating with himself for NFHA purses he will be more than fair.
Announced purses for the first 10 days of barrel racing were to be $2,000 per performance, so you get an idea of what total purses might have been.  And by the way, while percentages were offered for purses from pari-mutuel wagering handle and from card room activity in the NFHA contract, nothing was mentioned for purses from slots or any future gaming.  Obviously an oversight…
So how successful was Romanik and Dunbar’s venture with their partners the Creek Indians from Alabama?  Attendance on most days was around 50 and on their Grand Opening of the Poker room attendance was said to have exceeded 250.  Numerous You Tube videos would make one think that these numbers were inflated.
Total wagering handle for both years’ meets was $41,714 with $11,036 of it produced by Gretna’s Grand Opening day.  Gretna operated 40 matinee and evening performances during these two meets which meant that if you dropped the handle from the Grand Opening, Gretna handled an average of about $780 per barrel racing card.  Total Gretna commissions were $6,438 with $2,503 of that total going to purses according to the NFHA purse agreement.  Gretna paid the State of Florida $45,217 in pari-mutuel tax and licensing fees, which, of course, was more than Gretna’s total wagering handle of $41,714 for both years’ meets.
Gross card room receipts for the first meet were $178,176 of which the barrel racers got $7,127 according to their contract.  Gretna Racing retained as yet an unknown net amount.
Financially, things didn’t seem to go to well for Romanik, Dunbar and their Indian partners.  Things became more unpleasant for our boys when Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi, opinioned that no slots licenses should be approved by the state for counties that passed referendums unless the Legislature authorized it.  Her opinion came out three weeks before the slots referendum easily passed in Gadsden County.
Said Gulfstream Park Lobbyist and part owner of Gretna Racing, Marc Dunbar, “I look forward to meeting her (Bondi) in court.”
Stay tuned for more exciting news from the world’s only pari-mutuel barrel racing facility, Gretna.