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Florida's eight Indian casinos increased non-gambling revenue

Apr 8, 2014 3:00 AM

The Seminole Tribe continues to be the lynchpin in any move to expand gambling in Florida.

With the governor negotiating in secret with the Seminoles (and giving no hint of the direction they’re heading), House Democrats have announced they will kill a new deal with the Indians unless it includes more table games (black jack, craps, roulette, chemin de fer, baccarat, etc.) for licensed Florida racinos (pari-mutuels).

The racino operators have long complained that the Tribe has a decided competitive-advantage monopoly with table games, while they are confined to slots and poker. Many racinos now offer the “electronic” or virtual version of blackjack and roulette. Any deal struck by Governor Rick Scott must also be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

New numbers released Wednesday show Florida’s eight Indian casinos increased non-gambling revenue by 25 percent in 2012, far and above the 2.7 percent increase among Indian facilities nationwide. It was the second consecutive year of a double-digit non-gambling increase, headed by the Seminoles Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and Hollywood.

Non-gambling revenue includes food, entertainment and hospitality. An annual study reported nationally tracks figures through 2012, and reports Florida’s eight Indian casinos increased gambling revenue by 2.5 percent (2012) with a $2.2 billion total.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation denied a request to move a dormant pari-mutuel permit affiliated with Gulfstream Park to the former Omni Mall in downtown Miami, effectively blocking a deal with Genting to create a destination casino resort there.

The Omni, a part indoor mall/hotel near the old Miami Herald parcel, is part of the wide swath of land bordering Biscayne Bay that the Malaysian gaming powerhouse acquired two years ago.

The ruling was based on the fact the permit was issued to Gulfstream in Broward (Fort Lauderdale) County and could not be transferred to Miami-Dade County. Genting lawyers will try a different route by courting the Florida State legislature to approve the deal during the current session.

Gretna, the tiny panhandle village that sports a poker room wrapped around occasional pari-mutuel horse barrel racing and/or Quarter Horse “flag drop” races has, for the third time, been deemed illegal: prohibiting betting on the quasi races.

The Florida First District Court of Appeals also stipulates its ruling includes not just the Gretna operation but any other similar attempts to skirt the law in the state. Meanwhile, Gretna continues to host a poker room and simulcast betting on thoroughbreds. That would appear to be ending based upon the court’s ruling…maybe.

It’s not Thoroughbred racing or Quarter Horse racing, but what equine activity will be the attraction for the new permit issued by the Florida Division of Pari-mutuel Racing to South Marion Real Estate Holdings.

Certainly it’s another brash attempt to establish another year-round poker room in sleepy little Marion County in the center of the state. With barrel racing and flag racing out, sources say the “horse related” events will take place in an area the size of a glorified bull ring, with an adjacent Quonset hut for the poker.

Thoroughbred and Quarter horsemen plus their lawyers have been summoned to a pow-wow by the state to discuss this latest brazen attempt to skirt the law. The legislature supposedly is considering creating a more powerful department of gaming; however it, too, remains stalled in Tallahassee politics.

With the state budget, medical marijuana, veteran’s benefits, Everglades restoration, and over 500 proposed pork barrel amendments, gambling issues are firmly on the back burner.

Racinos are campaigning heavily for decoupling live Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, greyhound racing and jai alai as a prerequisite for carrying simulcast betting. Around the country the decoupling continues to gain momentum.

The latest: A bill introduced in the Arizona legislature specifically addressing Tucson Greyhound Track. Current law requires the track to host a minimum 100 live race days to allow simulcasts (at the track and at local OTB’s), except in certain smaller counties.

This bill would even that playing field. Animal rights organizers, and several local Tucson councilmen are championing the bill, which would effectively end dog racing in the state. The track has backed previous attempts for a similar arrangement.

Miami Jai Alai sold: Pending final approval by a Federal Judge, ABC Funding will acquire the long time downtown fronton and casino with a winning bid in an auction, beating Mohegan Sun, Penn National, and Z Capital.

New York developer, Andrew Silverman’s Silvermark LLC’s offer prior to the auction of $130 million fell short of a $180 million assessed value on the property; consequently the auction was court mandated. ABC’s final winning price was $155 million.

Silvermark LLC is due a $4 million breakup fee from ABC. Florida Gaming, the longtime owner of the 1926 historic jai alai palace, has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since August.

Another sale: The Key Biscayne attraction  Miami Seaquarium was sold to a Spanish-based international theme park company. Details of the sale were not released by owner Wometco of the 60-year-old facility. Lolita, the “killer whale,” has been the long time top attraction at the 38 acre 1950’s-style park, which also hosted the star of the legendary TV show, “Flipper.”

Palace Entertainment, a California subsidiary of Parques Reunidos is expected to make significant upgrades. Over the years Wometco attempted to add new attractions, including a water theme park to offset lagging attendance. However, Key Biscayne residents rejected the plan citing traffic congestion on the picturesque causeway.

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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