Picture appears bright for Fla. gaming and racing

Jan 15, 2013 3:00 AM

Bowls are done, Pitino vs. Pitino is in the books; and numerous reports of Shaq and The Worm back in town hobnobbing along Ocean Drive provide daily fodder.

In February, NASCAR’s premier race the Daytona 500 takes place on the 24th. The March calendar is busy in golf with the Honda Classic, Doral, Innisbrook and Bay Hill. The prestigious Players Championship comes up May 10-13 at Ponte Vedra.

Tennis has the Sony Ericcson event March 18-28 and of course spring training begins March 1. There’s major horse racing stakes events at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park.

And Florida is tops in culture with the Miami International Film Festival from March 2-11, winding up a tour that began with the Coconut Grove Arts Festival from Feb. 16-18 and the SOBE Wine and Food Festival from Feb. 21-24.

As far as recreation there is the ever present Everglades National Park, Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and Lake Okeechobee with sports fishing and competitive angling.

And, the Florida legislative session convenes March 5 for two months of enlightened government. 

The gaming industry is keen on increasing gaming. The state elected officials prefer to take a year or two and think it over. The huge casino conglomerates predictably aren’t in the mood for thinking.

Consequently, Tallahassee is already awash in lobbyists mainly funded by gaming angling for resort casino destinations and a slew of other expansions. Their fists are full of cash and promises of increased tax income to the desperate state, plus an accompanying employment bonanza.

Operating racinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties want longer hours, smaller taxes, table games and a level playing field with the Seminoles (whose deal with the state mandates they are solely allowed to have live table games other than poker).

The proliferation of the “Internet cafés” throughout the state is being met with legislative indifference thus far. Apparently lawmakers feel they have bigger slots to pull. There is a grassroots movement to either rid or regulate them. Once the session gets going it’s possible that discussion will be added to the expansion conversation.

Our crystal ball suggests the lawmakers will make a small nod to expansion – largely because Gov. Rick Scott, who enjoys near universal disapproval, is gearing up for re-election and continues promising to fix the state’s budget and add more jobs (neither of which he’s accomplished thus far).

Odds ’n ends

John Goodman, a former Palm Beach Polo gazillionaire mogul, got a hall pass from Judge Jeffrey Colbath and returns from jail to his house arrest awaiting appeal of his sentence. Evidently in October Goodman’s ankle bracelet got damaged somehow at his $11 million dollar crib in Wellington and prosecutors accused him of trying to escape.

A motion to permanently return him to jail was floated. The Judge found it frivolous. Super barrister, Roy Black, is mounting an appeal on Goodman’s drunk driving/hit and run conviction.

Mucho Macho Man returns to Gulfsltream Park on Jan. 19. Trainer, Kathy Ritvo enters with hopes for a win in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic, 1-1/8 miles on the dirt. Fort Larned who defeated the Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup will be in action in the Grade II GP Handicap on March 9.

Luis Saez, Calder’s leading jockey, heads to the New York circuit come May. The 20-year-old, has topped in the south Florida jockey colony for the past three years. West Coast jockey star Joel Rosario, in his first GP, season is enjoying an especially strong early season.

Several members of the Georgia legislature are working on a referendum to allow horse racing (and betting). A 2/3 majority in both the Georgia senate and house would be required to place the approval question on the 2014 ballot.

Aside from one (lonely) day trip gambling boat in Savannah, the state’s gamblers travel to north Florida poker parlors and Alabama tribal casinos.

Bayfront 2011 Development LLC, spawned from Genting Group, dropped a nifty $100,000 on the Let’s Get to Work electioneering organization, which supports Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. Scott stayed above the gambling expansion fray last year. He needs gaming expansion and gaming expansion needs him this year.

Miami’s Magic City Casino presented a live boxing card earlier this month. The ex-Flagler Dog Track refurbished its ancient indoor racing “theater” to the tune of $5 million. The arena seats an 750 and can expandt to 1,100. Nearby competitor, Miami Jai Alai Casino also recently introduced a boxing series.

Miami lacks a steady boxing venue. The monthly boxing series at the Miccosukee Casino stopped several years ago due to diminishing attendance. Palm Beach resident Don King mounts shows from time to time.

Jaguar fans are bracing for the pending onslaught of the Tebow Nation. The good news is he’ll be welcomed back to Florida with open arms. The bad news is actress Camilla Belle dumped him.

Miami Herald writer Jim Freer reports GP is planning year-round racing beginning in 2014. The Stronach track will begin expanding the current footprint to include two hotels, 50,000 more grandstand seats, a movie theater and additional retail. Regaining the Breeders’ Cup is one of the track’s priorities. It generally takes a capacity of 50,000 to be considered.

The rubber meets the road on Feb. 28 when GP, Calder and Hialeah Park must submit their desired 2014 racing dates to the Florida Division of Parimutuel Racing. A previous “deal” between GP and Calder allowed GP to begin four weeks earlier in December and gave Calder two additional weeks in April.

Gulfstream Park CEO Tim Ritvo said the track may feature three racing days per week in the summer – possibly competing on certain days head on with Churchill Downs’ Calder.

John Brunetti, president of Hialeah, which runs an annual three month quarter horse meet, is reportedly not inclined to join the potential GP/Calder head-to-head competition insisting to legislators he wants his own, annual proprietary thoroughbred meet. Stay tuned.

The Marlins solved their third base problem by acquiring Placido Polanco. No word yet on when management plans to trade Ricky Nolasco and Giancarlo Stanton.

Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson bring a combined 80 years of gaming marketing and administration experience to Gaming Today. Contact them at [email protected].

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