Last month, Marion Gaming Management finalized the purchase of approximately 50 acres of farm land which will be transformed into the venue. The plot of land is just east of US highway 301 and south of County Road 42. In total, the company paid $1.16 million to secure the land from the previous owners.
A section of land located along Southeast 180 will also be a part of the overall complex. Steve Gray, an attorney and one of the managers at Marion Gaming, said that the company would soon successfully close on the adjacent property.
Construction is slated to begin on the complex later in the year, although the schedule may be subject to change.
The property owners Thomas and Roberta Lane sold the property to the company for the announced price a few months ago.
Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association president Steve Fisch believes that the plans for a new venue in Marion County may be just what the industry needs at this time. The county is also betting on the track providing an economic boost to the area. "Marion Gaming's move could be a good thing," Mr. Fisch said. "If it's done in the manner that it should be done," he added.
In order for the venue to be an official quarter horse racing track, all the races must be sanctioned through the American Quarter Horse Association. This also means following the organization's guidelines and rules, which require all tracks to offer forty days of racing every year and a minimum of eight races on each of those days.
Whether or not Marion Gaming will eventually comply with these rules is still in question. With the pari-mutuel license issued by the state, the company has several other options for both revenue growth and entertainment that it is considering at the present time.
Under existing Florida law, parties who have been issued such a license can also have card rooms as well as horse races on their complex property. Having another source of gambling would be an excellent way to draw in larger crowds to the racing events and produce more revenue for both the company and the county. In fact, industry experts predict that profits from such card rooms would exceed those that are produced from horse racing, which is relatively slim in comparison.
Another advantage found within Florida statutes that Marion Gaming is taking advantage of is the rule which states that while thoroughbred tracks must contribute a percentage of profits made in the card rooms to the racing purses, quarter horse tracks are not required to do so. Under current law, that amount is set at fifty percent for thoroughbred tracks. Since the quarter horse track in Marion County is not encumbered by such a rule, more profits can now go to the company.
In fact, the requirements for quarter horse tracks are relatively minor in comparison to other horse racing venues. Marion Gaming will only be required to file purse agreements for the respective races with either the state Quarter Horse Racing Association or a similar professional body.
At the same time, Fisch and others believe that Florida laws pertaining to quarter horse racing make it too easy for track owners to circumvent the spirit of the sport and hurt the industry reputation as a whole. Under state rules, some track owners may be able to have only a few races per year or have races which feature only two horses competing. The result, of course, would be disastrous for quarter racing in general.
When interviewed recently, the Director of Communications at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- the state department that oversees the licensure process for quarter horse tracks -- said that the issue of the number of races required was a complex one which depended on multiple factors.
Steve Gray says that the new venue plans to initially have twenty race days per year with eight races on each of those days. At the present time, however, it hasn't been decided on which days those races will be held and how many horses will compete during each race.
When asked about the card room gambling, Gray responded. "That's what pays for the racing."
Whether Marion County can sustain two card rooms operating simultaneously has yet to be seen. "I think it's difficult to determine," Tom Ventura, President of OBS said. "But it's a big county."
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