South Florida's racino action continued up solidly in May

Jun 23, 2015 3:00 AM

South Florida’s racino action continued up solidly in May at an exceptionally high rate for this time of year. Total Net Slot Revenue was up $3.7 million or 8.7%, which translates to $1.2 million in additional tax revenue for the state.

The 2014-15 fiscal year now is projected to be the highest in the nine year history of legal slot play. As the fiscal year ends June 30, 2015, NSR and tax revenue edge closer to original projections sold to the public prior to the referenda five years ago.

Individual monthly NSR reports are all positive with Isle at Pompano leading, as usual, at $12.5 million, up 17% from last year. The most impressive report is Casino Miami (Miami Jai Alai) at $6.1 million – a whopping 28.2% increase.

Gulfstream Park and nearby Mardi Gras (Hollywood) remain in a tight competition. GP has slightly lower May NSR at $3.975M but was up a hefty 10.7% vs. Mardi Gras at $4M but only a 4.5% increase. Magic City (Flagler) topped the $7 million mark, up a nifty 6%; Calder reported $6.7M, up 2.5%; and Hialeah was up 8% with the lowest Miami Dade NSR at $5.85M.

When open last year Dania Jai Alai reported over $1 million in NSR for May. The coastal Broward County landmark is dark now, undergoing a substantial inside and out makeover.

A recent drive past the one-time jai alai palace revealed an emerging new facility – dramatically different from the old fronton. The massive facelift is expected to meet a late 2015/early 2016 reopening.

Of all the racinos, Dania faces the steepest competition with the nearby Seminole Hard Rock operation and the well-established Gulfstream and Mardi Gras racinos.

Correction: In our May 26th article we incorrectly reported Calder had been down in NSR for April. In fact it was up 4.4%.

Card Room Report

May poker business was off, down a little over $200,000, 1.7%. Details on May’s gross receipts along with fiscal yearend comparisons and percentages will appear in the next report. At deadline April and May 2015 pari-mutuel results were unavailable.

Legal update

The Florida state legislature concluded a special session specifically called to authorize the state budget by June 20. Politicians also decided the administration and funding for health care for the poor. Governor Rick Scott’s job “initiative” was approved but only funded partially. Naturally, at the deadline heavyweights in the legislature found a way to get pork barrel funding for the likes of IMG Academy for $2 million, The Academy is a private, for profit sports factory in Bradenton championed by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. All such pork spending depends upon the governor’s veto.

As predicted gambling was not discussed though the provision in the Seminole’s compact that includes the annual $250 million to the state terminates July 31.

The legality and constitutionality of the state’s slot machine law continues to be tested, with accompanying strong media commentary. Senior Sun Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo contends a Florida appeals court’s recent ruling allowing slot machines at the tiny panhandle, barrel-racing track in Gretna would automatically void the clause in the Seminole’s (current) compact requiring all slots be restricted to Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

He opines that if Gretna, whose largest investor happens to be the Poarch Creek Tribe of Alabama, gets slots, the Seminoles will certainly discontinue their $250 million guaranteed annual payment to the state…and, probably continue their table games, possibly add in roulette and craps, and pocket the $250 million to market them.

Calling the court decision “a jaw-dropping gambling expansion,” state officials immediately asked for a full-court rehearing. Attorney General Pam Bondi requested the hearing on behalf of the Department of Business Regulation. The ruling was decided by a 2-1 margin, but Bondi’s office wants the entire 15-member court to review the case. It’s likely the entire matter will be decided by the Supreme Court.

Representing more than 6,000 horsemen statewide, Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) President Bill White in a press release reminded that, during the span between December 2011 and January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged pari-mutuel barrel racing to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012 (which passed).

Other pari-mutuel permit holders have since followed suit, designing workarounds to Florida law that require two years’ worth of live horse racing as a prerequisite to licensing card rooms or slot machines.

If Gretna survives the rehearing, the licensing and taxation of the actual slot machines…the Florida gambling landscape could blow up into a free gambling market (regulated? unregulated? taxed? untaxed?) with destination casinos/poker rooms, real and quasi race tracks/Internet cafes/tribal casinos and racinos across the state.

Odds n’ ends

• Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track concluded the 2014-2015 live racing season May 25. Dog racing returns Oct. 30. N-FM and Palm Beach Kennel Club, which operates dog racing, poker and simulcasting year round, are heavily lobbying the legislature to permit them to add slot machines. Both county’s voters approved slots several years ago. Again, neither is located in the only legal counties of Miami-Dade or Broward.

• The Blue Horizon, a casino day cruise ship based at the port of Palm Beach, could be sailing later this month. The port commission unanimously approved a five year, three month agreement with PB Gaming, which will operate the gambling “cruises to nowhere” on the vessel previously named the Island Breeze. Over the past 20 years five similar casino cruise operations have failed.

• With Gulfstream Park hosting live racing all summer, Palm Meadows, the busy training track also owned and operated by the Stronach Group, remains open year round. Since the 286 acre Boynton Beach facility began operation 13 years ago, it has not operated for summer months. Trainers were confined to Calder, Hialeah and the few barns at Gulfstream. Now Palm Meadows 1-1/8 mile dirt track and a 7 furlong grass course are busy daily. It’s been the training track of choice for 5 of the last 11 Kentucky Derby winners.

• The Miccosukee Tribe of west Miami-Dade (Everglades) has been dealt another blow in its legal battle with the U.S. government over failure to report and withhold taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars in casino income distributed to tribal members. The tribe has operated a bingo parlor and Class III slots casino and poker room for many years on its western Miami-Dade reservation. It is the primary source of income for the tribal families.

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