Once, at a Dolphins game, watching from the nosebleed seats, I found myself distracted by two young guys in the next row clutching fistfuls of dollar bills, their antics more interesting than the dismal excuse for football down below. They were betting with one another on the minutia of the game. With each punt, they wagered on the hang time.
Who knows? One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Maybe I was witnessing Florida’s next official form of pari-mutuel wagering.
Hang-time gambling surely ranks no more bizarre than hankie-drop racing, a gambling diversion approved last month by that zany gang down at the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
The PMW decided that hankie drops, 100-yard dashes featuring two animals, vaguely described as horses, could be substituted for the oval track and traditional quarter horse races described on Gretna Racing’s license. The cheapie two-horse gallops, the state agency decided, gave the Gadsden County pari-mutuel the necessary smidgen of loophole legality the track would need to operate lucrative sidelines — poker, simulcast racing and, one day, slot machines.
Gretna conjured up the hankie drop after an administrative judge tossed the track’s PMW-approved scheme to pass off rodeo barrel racing (two mounted ponies looping around three barrels and racing back to the gate) as a legitimate parimutuel competition.
That the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering signed off on both these anomalies says something about Florida’s anarchic approach to legalized gambling. While the state legislature has resisted, with mock horror, so-called “destination casinos” uncoupled to horses, dogs or men with baskets strapped to their wrists (as if the Seminoles were still running bingo games and alligator wrestling behind the old smoke shops), pari-mutuels have deteriorated into decrepit facades for gambling parlors.
Last Monday, the state legislature received the first of a three-part study on Florida’s sorry gambling policies from New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group. The Spectrum consultants captured enough of the state’s downright stupid gaming anomalies that even the most obstinate legislator should want to discard this mess and come up with a comprehensive rethink.
Hankie drop racing seems majestic compared to the fakery allowed at Ocala Jai-Alai. State law requires that a jai-alai operator stage a certain number of performances each year to maintain his gambling licenses. (And to allow the subsidiary poker rooms and, in South Florida, slots.) Spectrum reported, “Last year, Ocala stretched the letter of the law when it hired two locals who played each other over and over to comply with the minimum-performance law.” General Manager Brian Matthews explained to the Spectrum investigators “that he had no choice but to run jai-alai the way he did because it loses so much money, adding, ‘We can’t get anyone to watch it’.” He added, “If this was just jai-alai, we would have been closed long ago.”
The report found that Hamilton Jai-Alai “relies on a four-person jai alai roster” including a father and his son combination. Hamilton, to meet the requirement for 100 jai-alai performances a year necessary to retain a poker room license, features these same four players playing one another over and over again, from March until June, until they hit the magic number. Manager Glenn Richards told Spectrum, “People call it a joke, and I cannot disagree,” he said. “It is either do this or shut the door. We cannot get anyone to watch this anymore.”