04/06/2010 11:00PM

Casino deal will benefit Florida tracks


Casinos at Florida's parimutuel facilities will receive a 30 percent tax break on slots revenues and Hialeah Park will be able to open a casino as the result of an agreement reached by the legislature and the state's Seminole Indian tribe.

The agreement, which gives the Seminoles the exclusive right to operate table games at its seven Florida casinos, is expected to be ratified by both houses of the state legislature on Thursday. The approval will end three years of wrangling over a new gambling compact with the Seminoles and lift the uncertainty over the status of the Hialeah casino.

The concessions to the racing industry were included in the agreement as a way to mollify the industry's concerns over the Seminoles' ability to offer more types of games at its casinos. Racetrack casinos have fared relatively poorly in south Florida, particularly at Gulfstream Park, where per-day slot-machine revenues were well below the national industry standard until a recent uptick this year following the opening of a retail center at the Hallandale Beach racetrack.

The agreement will reduce the tax rate for slot machines at Gulfstream and Churchill Downs Inc.'s Calder Race Course from 50 percent to 35 percent, beginning July 1.

Churchill opened its casino at Calder earlier this year, and, so far, per-day win for each of the casino's 1,245 machines has been $146, on average, according to figures compiled by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Gulfstream's 1,463 machines were averaging around $160 per day before the opening of the retail center, but the number has climbed above $200 for the past two months, including $262 per machine in February, according to the department. The national industry standard is approximately $300.

Because the reduction in tax rate applies to parimutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, a planned casino at Hialeah Park also will qualify for the reduced tax rate. Hialeah Park reopened late last year under a Quarter Horse racing license in order to fulfill a requirement negotiated in a precursor to the agreement that the track hold live race meets for two consecutive years in order to qualify for a casino license.

Hialeah Park officials did not respond to phone calls Wednesday.

Although Hialeah's owner, John Brunetti, has indicated that he would like to hold Thoroughbred races at Hialeah, the track's Thoroughbred racing permit was permanently revoked in 2004 after the track closed in 2002. Legislation would be necessary to restore the permit.

The agreement also will allow all 19 parimutuel facilities in the state, including Tampa Bay Downs, to install as many as 350 electronic gambling machines that allow players to gamble on bingo-style games or that use horse races that have already been run to generate numbers that determine payouts. Racetracks also will be able to keep their poker rooms open for 24 hours.

Legislative leaders and the Seminole tribe have been attempting to negotiate a new gambling compact for three years. Under the compact, the Seminoles have guaranteed payments to the state of at least $1 billion over the next five years, and 10 percent of its net revenue on table games for 15 years after the initial five-year period ends.