Florida pari-mutuel positive for Feb-Mar.

May 12, 2015 3:00 AM

State pari-mutuel numbers for February and March released by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering are at first glance disappointing for the usually successful “winter season,” but careful examination paints a more positive picture.

February’s results were off 7.8%, which is not indicative of the overall situation at all Florida pari-mutuel facilities. The loss of revenue from the shuttered Dania Jai Alai continues to be a big drag, causing the overall jai alai handle to be drastically off 63% from 2014 with Ft. Pierce and Miami also down.

Thoroughbreds were down 12% with Calder no longer simulcasting, though a portion was recovered nicely through resurgent Isle at Pompano and Tampa Bay Downs, each gaining for the month. Gulfstream Park’s live racing handle topped 2014 by over $2 million and Tampa Bay Downs live racing enjoyed a hefty plus 5%.

Greyhounds were up 3.3%, Quarter Horses gained 11.1% and Isle at Pompano gained 18%, encompassing increases in all handle components including live racing.

March Pari-Mutuels

Again, at first glance, not good news: Statewide handle was down to $82.5 million vs. 2014’s stellar $95 million, a drop of $12 million or 13.1% for March. However, there are several mitigating factors.

Going back to March 2014 there were 17 operations reporting handle for an average of $5.59 million each. In 2015 only 15 operations were reporting handle and their average was $5.50 million. The average handle was down only $86,000 or 1.5%.

Greyhound tracks were down slightly, $1.5 million, with the Jacksonville area operation the main culprit. Several of the tracks were down marginally. Palm Beach showed a considerable gain.

Jai alai with Dania closed dropped over $1.7 million from 2014 with a total of nearly $2.8 million, providing insight into the total handle. Additionally, Ft. Pierce and Casino Miami were down for March.

However, the thoroughbred handle plummeted $8.55 million, a 14.1% drop from 2014; Gulfstream Park, enjoying a Florida Derby record, actually rose more than 5% for March. Calder Race Course’s closing cost over $10 million in lost handle from 2014 and Tampa Bay Downs was down also.

Florida March thoroughbred business accounted for 62% of the total state pari-mutuel handle, skewing all pari-mutuel handle percentages.

Quarter Horses were not operating in March 2014. Hialeah’s handle was over $220,000 for their final month of racing this season. At the completion of the fiscal year, Q-H results should produce a healthy increase on their modest handle.

Harness Racing is alive and well with Isle at Pompano continuing a three month run of gains in March, up over 2.5%.

From The Blood Horse: Gulfstream Park reported its average field size for the Dec. 6, 2014-April 5, 2015 meet grew 13.1% from 8.4 to 9.5 horses per race, while average daily all-sources pari-mutuel handle slipped 1.7% – but was a solid $8.1 million.

Field sizes jumped because 2013-14 marked the one season of head-to-head weekend racing between Gulfstream and neighboring Calder. Gulfstream had the South Florida market to itself in 2014-15.

Gulfstream said total all-sources handle for its winter meet grew 1.9% from $691 million in 2013-14 to a record $704 million in 2014-15.

From the start of its 2014-15 meet through late March, Gulfstream’s simulcast signal was among those not available to the 23 tracks and their related wagering outlets that are members of the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative, a group that negotiates fees for incoming simulcasts. Tampa Bay officials in February said it cost the track about $350,000 a day in handle. The matter involving pricing has been resolved.

Legislative Update

In an unprecedented move the Florida House leadership closed their session three days early. Senators and the governor were blindsided by the move that left a host of potential laws, including several involving gambling and racing, in limbo. Courts found the early shut-down illegal…but well after the fact.

Legislative leaders have indicated a special session is tentatively scheduled for June 1-20. Whether or not gambling will be considered is problematic. It’ll be budget first, and anything else second or last.

Following the legislature closing, James Billie, Seminole Tribal Chairman, sent a hand-delivered letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardner, requesting immediate “good faith” renegotiation of the Compact before it expires July 31.

The actual reason for the letter was to set in motion a 180 day deadline requiring the state to begin serious negotiations before federal courts intervene. Consequently, the Compact with the Seminoles is several months from expiration.

Odds and Ends

Sun Sentinel gaming reporter Nick Sortal broke the story about the redo of Dania Jai Alai. He reports the 62-year-old site is gutted and scheduled to re-open as a full casino/fronton in December.

The owners of Flagler Dog Track/Magic City Casino in Miami acquired 25% of Dania recently and are spearheading the remake. They will be the day-to-day operators backed by a group of Argentine casino investors.

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