State settles barrel-racing case with $200,000 in attorney’s fees

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Florida gambling regulators will pay $200,000 in legal fees to Rutledge Ecenia, a Tallahassee-based law firm that sued the state over rodeo-style barrel races at Gretna Racing in Gadsden County.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled in February that the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation mistakenly granted a controversial license to the North Florida racetrack. For the first time in the nation, a license authorized barrel racing as a pari-mutuel activity.

Horse races in Florida authorize a facility to operate lucrative card rooms, with the possibility of allowing more-profitable slot machines.

Controversy over the Gretna license comes in part because the racetrack did not run the typical quarter-horse races.

In granting the license in 2011, ruled an administrative law judge last year, the agency essentially created a new class of horse-racing without the proper authority.

Since the judge’s decision, Gretna Racing stopped barrel races, agreeing with the state to hold “flag drop” races, where two horses compete without obstacles.

For more than a year, the agency has been working to draft new horse-racing rules.

Documents in the case show that on Thursday the state and Rutledge Ecenia, which sought to collect more than $330,000 in legal fees and other costs, agreed to a single$200,000 lump-sum settlement.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.