UPDATED: A popular rodeo event, barrel racing made its debut as a pari-mutuel betting sport in Florida on December 1, as opponents' last-minute efforts to stop the activity failed. The Poarch Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama is the majority owner of Gretna Racing, which received a Quarter Horse license from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on October 19 and has scheduled several days of barrel racing this month at its new facility west of Tallahassee.
On opening day, local reports indicated that about 50 enthusiastic spectators attended the races, although there was a definite challenge in learning how to bet the events and how to handicap the entries.
The property plans at Gretna also call for a state-of-the-art poker room scheduled to open later this month, as allowed at pari-mutuel facilities in Florida, but the real prize could potentially come in the form of slot machines. Although still under appeal, a recent court decision ruled that the legislature could authorize slot machines anywhere in the state so long as local voters have approved the games. A referendum in Gadsden County on Jan. 31, 2012, will determine whether local voters approve slot machines at the Gretna facility.
Opposing barrel racing as a pari-mutuel activity are all manner of current players in the Florida horse racing scene – among them the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. None of these groups believes that barrel racing should be considered a recognized horse racing activity under Florida pari-mutuel laws.
An administrative hearing is set for December 13-14 to review the legal challenges to the license.
A second license application for barrel racing has already been filed by Hamilton Downs in Jasper, Fla., situated between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
If barrel racing survives the legal challenges, it won’t be the first rodeo event to offer pari-mutuel wagering. Steer roping has been a staple in Wyoming for several decades, although admittedly it is a very small betting sport. Three counties in that state have approved betting on roping events since Albany County was the first in 1973 (Campbell and Sheridan Counties subsequently followed suit). Albany County even approved pari-mutuel chariot racing in 1976, but only steer roping has been a betting event in recent years.
The chart below shows pari-mutuel handle at Wyoming's steer roping events. The 2009 handle represents roping events at two rodeos over six days. In earlier years, roping handle came from two days at the Hyde Merritt Memorial Mountain States Circuit Finals.