Just one month before awarding Gretna Racing LLC the highly questionable license with which it perpetrated “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering had lost a complex protracted litigation battle with Gretna Racing owners David Romanik and Marc Dunbar over the lawyer/lobbyists’ petition for the award of attorneys’ fees in a case involving the Division’s denial of a Quarter Horse permit to “Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings.” (This company later became “South Marion Real Estate Holdings,” while a company by the name of Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings is now controlled by Romanik. South Marion Real Estate Holdings is controlled by Michael Goldstein, a longtime Romanik associate and grandson of an official at Pompano Park racetrack who formerly controlled Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings.)
Demanding to be reimbursed as much as $360,831 from taxpayer coffers for their time in litigating the Division’s Ft. Myers Quarter Horse permit denial, Romanik and Dunbar even supplied experts who testified that a multiplier should be used to make the Division “’pay dearly,’ i.e., as punishment . . .” for what they termed “a gross abuse of the agency’s discretion.”
The request was enabled by the First District Court of Appeal, which said the Division’s later related actions were “so contrary to the fundamental principles of administrative law” that Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings was entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees.
But, in reviewing the timesheets and other documentation submitted by Romanik, Dunbar and two other affiliated attorneys, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings found “obvious flaws and less obvious insufficiencies” and “a large amount of duplication . . . which exceeds a tolerable degree.”
“Regardless of how Mr. Romanik’s hours are characterized, they were excessive and duplicative,” stated Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth McArthur, who ultimately reduced Romanik and Dunbar’s requested hourly fee from $450 to $325 and $300, respectively. She further determined that the circumstances of this case did not warrant that the Division be “punished.” In fact, the Division’s denial had been because of a new law, under which Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings permit could no longer qualify for the Quarter Horse racing permit for which it had applied.
It was ultimately revealed that, should Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings have actually commenced gaming operations, Romanik would have been paid $5 million, in addition to “any and all court fees that may be awarded.” Dunbar’s law firm, Pennington et al, was to be a subcontractor in the deal.
South Marion Real Estate holdings, along with Pompano Park, are among six pari-mutuel entities that are currently awaiting the results of Quarter Horse license applications with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. None currently hold agreements with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, the State’s statutorily recognized horsemen’s association.
In 2011, Romanik and Dunbar launched a spurious smokescreen lawsuit against the statutory Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, while the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation continues to mount aggressive taxpayer-funded litigation against the same organization in defense of its unilateral Gretna Racing license award, which was done with no enabling legislation or regulatory hearings.
Gretna Racing’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” is enabled by the “North Florida Horsemen’s Association,” which is controlled and owned by Romanik and Dunbar. State and federal law mandates that tracks must have agreements with lawful horsemen’s associations in order to ensure the proper distribution of funds derived from wagering revenue. Aside from Gretna Racing, no other pari-mutuel currently actively owns and controls its own horsemen’s association.
Recently, in the face of mounting statewide disapproval, Hamilton Downs Jai Alai, which had applied for a “pari-mutuel barrel racing” license based on the Gretna Racing model, withdrew its application for racing dates.