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State gambling regulators fending off challenges with two barrels

Florida's gambling regulators are fending off legal challenges on two fronts today, both because of their decision to issue two pari-mutuel permits -- one to a barrel-racing track in North Florida and another to a summer Jai Alai permit in Miami.

The state's Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering argued in the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee Monday that it's decision to issue a barrel racing permit to a new horse track in Gretna should not be put on hold. The stay is being sought by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association which is challenging the permit as illegal, claiming barrel racing is not a legitimate pari-mutuel activity.

Owners of the track, however, argue that the state never defined what constitutes horse racing, allowing for the liberal interpretation employed to allow for barrel racing.  

Meanwhile, in Leon County Circuit Court, the owners of the Mardi Gras Casino filed suit against the state on Friday for issuing a summer jai alai permit to the owners of Magic City Casino arguing that the never-used loophole written into state law in 1992 is unconstitutional. After Magic City obtained its permit, the owner of the barrel race track applied for a permit to build a jai alai fronton in western Broward County on property owned by developer Ron Bergeron. The state last week rejected the permit because it was incomplete.

Both cases have this in common: the holders of the new pari-mutuel permits see it as a way to leapfrog into more lucrative gambling offerings, such as poker rooms and slot machines. As these loopholes widened, Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, last week called for legislation to close the loopholes before lawmakers consider bringing resort casinos to South Florida.