The state’s recent outlawing of storefront casinos has made Morgan a little wary about discussing the gambling aspects of crab racing. “This is a skill sport,” he insisted, echoing the very legal argument that failed the now outlawed senior citizen arcades. (The rather esoteric skill here apparently has to do with a bettor’s ability to choose the feistiest racer.) Morgan admits he was cited a few times on gambling charges in Ohio, though he said he beat the rap every time.
Obviously the gaming industry, with such formidable legal and lobbying resources, could convince (grease) state regulators in Tallahassee to legalize crab racing. Although, last week, another novel variation on parimutuel racing was dealt a setback.
An administrative law judge ruled Monday that barrel racing was not quite what legislators had in mind when they legalized thoroughbred and quarter horse races. Two years ago, a new racing venue in Gretna, in north Florida, decided to forgo the expense of quarter horse racing and substitute much cheaper barrel racing — an old rodeo sport in which the horse and rider rush out, loop around three barrels, then hurry back to the finish line. Winners are determined by the lowest time — it’s a race against the clock — though Gretna runs two races simultaneously to lend the spectacle the illusion of head-to-head competition.
That won’t do, ruled Judge John Van Landingham as he overruled the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s approval of barrel racing. Not if “the clock alone can decide the winner.” He said that for the contests to comply with state statures, “there can be but one race course, per race, for all of the horses in that race.”
Which gives some hope for those of us supporting hermit crab racing, which unlike barrel racing, runs all contestants, 80 or 90 at a time, in a single contest on a single table. Nobody in those rowdy environs would bother keeping time. Hell, some of these crabs never budge from the starting gate.
The case also caused the judge to ponder the legal definition of a quarter horse. Apparently, they run another species up there in Gadsden County’s barrel races — cracker horses. I have no idea what entails a “cracker horse,” but from what I know of Florida’s human “crackers,” it can’t be all that far up the rungs of the evolutionary ladder from the crustacean.
The best thing about hermit crab racing is that it would afford Florida some distance from the doping horrors plaguing U.S. horse racing. The New York Times reported last fall that an average of 24 horses a week died at U.S. tracks, most of them breaking down after inhumane doses of performance enhancing drugs. The most grotesque marker of the doping scandal came last year when European meat importers stopped buying horses slaughtered in America because the meat was often so drug-tainted that it was considered unsafe for human consumption..
That’s about all I needed to know to give up on American horse racing. Crab racing, Morgan assured me, is drug free. “I used to do urine tests, but that was pretty messy,” he said. “Now I do saliva tests. My crabs are clean.”
For all that, he wasn’t much excited by my notion of crab racing as the future of parimutuel racing. “I’m 71,” he said. “I don’t have that much future left.”
And he’s a little antsy about introducing high rollers to crustacean racing. “I don’t know. One of these guys bets a thousand dollars on a slow-moving crab, I’m liable to get my ass shot off.”