Miami-Dade voters approve Florida’s second round of parimutuel slots
Voters in Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month approved the addition of slot machines to three parimutuel facilities. Miami-Dade voters two years ago rejected slots, after a state law was passed permitting local-option slots in that county and Broward County.
While Broward voters approved and three parimutuel facilities have since added slots, Miami-Dade voters were swayed by a last-minute anti-slot campaign led by former Governor Jeb Bush.
However, as expected, in the more-gaming-friendly era under current Governor Charlie Crist, voters easily approved slots. The referendum coasted to victory by a margin of 2-1, despite an 11th-hour campaign by anti-gaming activist Rev. Tom Grey to form a coalition of anti-gaming groups in an attempt to defeat the second referendum.
Well-funded parimutuel advocates, though, countered the mainly moral arguments and cautions of the alleged social costs of gambling with an effective series of television commercials concentrating on the economic benefits of slot gaming-in particular, job creation. The parimutuel operators say the expansion of gambling options will lead to 6,000 new jobs, and will generate an estimated $210 million for the state, to be earmarked for education.
Parimutuels in Broward County have contributed more than $100 million to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund since slots were added to Gulfstream Park, Pompano Park Race Track and Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center in 2006.
The law provides a maximum of 2,000 slots for each of three Miami-Dade parimutuel facilities, although estimates from the facilities themselves indicate that each will operate around 1,500 games. Slots will be added to Calder Race Course horse track, Flagler Dog Track and Miami Jai-Alai.
Robert Evans, CEO of Calder owner Churchill Downs, Inc., praised the decision on slots as a way to permit the thoroughbred track to compete in the area of purses.
“Thoroughbred tracks without slot machine gaming are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to providing the competitive purse programs that attract the number of horses required to conduct high-quality racing,” Evans said in a statement. “We are very pleased with the outcome of the election and greatly appreciate the overwhelming support that voters in Miami-Dade County have shown for Calder, thoroughbred racing in South Florida, and the thousands of workers who depend on the parimutuel industry for their livelihood.”
“This is the happiest, greatest day of my life,” chimed in Isadore Havenick, vice president of Flagler Dog Track, in a Miami Herald interview. “We’ve worked so hard for years… I feel like we won the Super Bowl.” Flagler plans to build a $100 million slot facility including restaurants, nightclubs, shops and an amphitheater.
Isle of Capri, which owns Pompano Park in Broward County, has an option to purchase Miami Jai Alai that lasts until the end of 2008. Company officials are likely to wait to see if the legislature gives the parimutuels some relief from competition from the surrounding Indian casinos.
The Miami-Dade parimutuels will have some daunting competition, as the state’s Seminole casinos went live with their own Class III slots last month. South Florida parimutuel operators are competing with the tribe’s slots under a tax rate that requires them to turn much more of their revenues to the state than will be required of the tribe.
Broward parimutuels have cited that competition as a reason they have generated less revenue than originally predicted.
Deal to buy Harrah’s Entertainment closes
The largest deal in gaming history was completed last week when Harrah’s Entertainment announced that its shareholders had given final approval to a $27 billion buyout by two private equity firms.
The deal was first announced in December 2006. It took a full year for all regulatory approvals to be obtained, the final one coming from the National Indian Gaming Commission in December.
Harrah’s shareholders received $90 per share. The company was acquired by a Delaware-based company called Hamlet Merger Inc., controlled by Apollo Management LP and TPG Capital LP.
The company insists no changes will be made to its operations or its senior executives, including Chairman, President and CEO Gary Loveman.
Harrah’s owns 50 casinos around the world and blazed the trail in customer service with its Total Rewards program that spans all of its casinos.
Pennsylvania casino owner indicted, stripped of license
Louis DeNaples, owner of the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains resort region, was charged last month by state police with four counts of perjury.
Immediately after the indictment was handed down, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced the suspension of DeNaples’ slot license, by emergency order of board Executive Director Anne Neeb. The casino will remain open, but will be operated by a trustee.
A grand jury found that DeNaples gave false responses to gaming board questions concerning ties to the late Northeast Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino; William D’Elia, a reputed mob boss in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Bufalino’s onetime driver; the late Ron White, a chief fund-raiser for former Philadelphia Mayor John Street who was swept up in a broad political corruption investigation; and Shamsud-din Ali, the Philadelphia imam who was charged in connection with that corruption investigation.
The jury took testimony from dozens of witnesses, including D’Elia himself, who is currently facing federal money-laundering and conspiracy charges.