Gaming picture in Sunshine State of Fla. heating up quickly

Aug 7, 2012 3:00 AM

As predicted by your humble reporters, the gaming picture in the Sunshine State is heating up fast even in the summer doldrums. 

The public is totally apathetic to the Marlins being sellers, the Dolphins opening camp, the Hurricanes about to begin practices, etc. With less than six months until the legislature wrangles with all manner of gaming expansion initiatives the powers that be are in the go mode with several astonishing new developments:

But, first here’s word from the Queen City soon to host the GOP convention and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino – where one happy slot player is $3,649,311 richer courtesy of a Bally’s wide area progressive $1 machine.

Seminole management was ecstatic as they recently completed a $75 million expansion. The jackpot starts at $1 million and increases with progressive play on linked machines around the USA.

And now the scoop: Genting, according to the Miami Herald, says it is seriously downsizing its planned mega resort along Biscayne Bay. Originally proposed to be the size of a small planet and costing the equivalent of the California state budget – promising hoards of jobs, the company now espouses terms of a facility 1/10th the size of the promised deal. 

The current rumored project according to the Herald is a 500-room hotel, two condo towers, and a restaurant/retail area of minor consequence.

Noises are already emanating from the state capitol that top legislators intend to make gaming in Florida a priority in the next two years. One trial balloon already in play is to revisit the compact that the Seminole Indian Tribe has with the state. The 2015 expiration date may be moved up suggesting an earlier renegotiation. 

The Seminoles are the only legal venue for blackjack in Florida. The racinos especially have objected to that exclusivity for years. And, the racinos do have long-time ingrained relationships with legislators and now considerable money for lobbyists. The Seminoles and Disney corporation have both contributed massive money to the issue and, according to the Herald, veteran legislators believe the more money that goes into the issue on either side makes the chances of major change diminish. 

An overriding issue is that Florida still has no statewide gambling commission, hence the regulation of the new industry is a tad skimpy.

Though Genting’s New York deal for a massive convention venue with Gov. Cuomo is on life support, and the Aqueduct slot deal is only a modest success, it appears the global giant is focusing on major investments in parts of the world already warm to gambling: for instance the new Bimini Bay project in the nearby Bahamas.

The company is not rolling over, however. Well known lobbyists in Tallahassee are preparing several destination resort options: revisiting the legislature with a bigger state income package, and/or promoting a statewide petition leading to local area votes for destination resorts. 

The Orlando Sentinel in a July 19 editorial castigated Genting for considering the petition/vote route, which would require a Constitutional amendment. The paper represents the general point of view of central Florida and the Disney/Universal corridor. 

Oddly (or perhaps not), Genting has not yet indicated any intention of buying local racinos and/or consolidating the competition to its advantage.

Palm Beach County racinos, still without slots, are prepping a major plan to remedy that issue. The Rooney family at Palm Beach Kennel Club is heavily involved.

On July 24 the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel’s Nick Sortal reported that the NHL Florida Panthers and Boyd Gaming were teaming up to bring a casino operation to Sunrise – a far western, heavily populated suburb located at the confluence of the I-595 and I-75 corridors – and home of the Bank Atlantic Center, where the Panthers play.

The kicker is that Boyd Gaming has sat on its gaming permit at ancient, barely operable, Dania Jai Alai (on the largely commercial east coast). The fact that Boyd Gaming has not imported slot machines into that facility has been an object of considerable speculation for the past four years.

Prevailing thinking is that Boyd will attempt to transfer its racino gaming license from Dania Jai Alai to the Sunrise location, taking advantage of the geographic and widely known name recognition from Palm Beach, Collier and Lee Counties. To boot, Sawgrass Mills, the state’s largest mall next-door to the BAC is a major draw in itself. 

Perhaps a long shot, should this deal become fact, the move would greatly affect the two premier western situated Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa and Isle Casino in nearby Pompano. On the other hand, the eastern casinos, Mardi Gras and Calder and Gulfstream, would have one less competitor.

A few years back one source close to us declared that within five years Florida would be on its way to being the gambling capital of the USA.

Why? Great climate, no state income tax, decreasing (comatose) industry base, ease of travel to and within the state, decreasing (comatose) state revenues, preexisting properties with casino-style ambiance (Trump/Doral), proximity to the islands and South America…the list goes on. 

The sleepy little state that relied 100% on tourism and agriculture for years is no longer. Adding fuel to the fire the latest numbers for 2012 are trickling out from Tallahassee. Here’s a rapid-fire report further showing that the industry is burgeoning.

The unaudited numbers for the fiscal year of Florida’s card rooms and pari-mutuel business for 2011-2012 indicate why all track operators in Florida desire immediate racinos. Of course, they would prefer full Las Vegas-type operations but most would be ecstatic to offer slots at their facilities.

The card rooms were up for the year a bit over $5 million or 4%, a decent increase but hardly comparable to 23%-plus of the previous fiscal year. Greyhounds, jai alai and harness were up marginally, while the thoroughbreds were off a small amount. However, with Gretna’s entry into the market the quarter horse/barrel racing card room business added a whopping $1.6 million. 

With the trend of the past two years, it’s a logical assumption some card room operations will deteriorate and eventually lose profitability. 

With national trends it’s hardly surprising Florida’s total pari-mutuel handle has decreased from the 2011 level; however, surprisingly, it decreased by less than 1%. 

Gulfstream’s switch to an earlier starting date in 2011 was a success with overall handle up over $20 million. Competitors Calder and Tropical-at-Calder were impacted, down $18 million. The state benefited and so did the horsemen. 

The greyhounds wound up nearly even for the year. Jai alai was down as was harness. The quarter-horse season was up with Hialeah up over $400,000 from 2011. Gulfstream and Gretna added about $210,000 to the quarter horse total. The complete spectrum of pari-mutuel handle was off about $8 million. 

While 2011-2012 was not awful, the true story is told by a comparison from 2010 to 2012: over $80 million less in handle, a whopping 8.6% decrease in revenue. Staggering.

The confluence of pari-mutuel gaming and casino gaming are clearly requisite for the survival of most, if not all, facilities in Florida with their ancillary effects on jobs, tourism, training facilities, veterinary, food, insurance, agriculture, banking, advertising, etc.

Florida Gaming Report is exclusively prepared for GamingToday by Thompson/Hutchinson & Associates, the “Casino Doctors" based in Miami, Fla., with offices in Philadelphia and Tucson. The principals, Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson are veteran gaming executives and consultants with clients in the pari-mutuel and casino industry. Check them out at www.thecasinodoctors.com.

Florida Gaming Report is exclusively prepared for GamingToday by Thompson/Hutchinson & Associates, the "Casino Doctors" based in Miami, Fla., with offices in Philadelphia and Tucson. The principals, Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson are veteran gaming executives and consultants with clients in the pari-mutual and casino industry. Check them out at www.thecasinodoctors.com.