01/08/2014 12:36PM

Gulfstream Park and horsemen join forces on possible Miami casino


Gulfstream Park and Florida’s horsemen and breeders have reached an agreement that could allow a Malaysian casino company to use a Gulfstream racing permit to open a casino near downtown Miami, but the plan likely depends on substantial changes to the state’s gambling laws.

The partners announced the deal while state lawmakers are considering an overhaul of the state’s gambling laws at the behest of companies eager to open casinos in the south Florida market. Current law requires casinos to be located at racetracks, coupled with a racing permit.

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Under the agreement, Resorts World would use a Quarter Horse racing permit held by a non-profit subsidiary of Gulfstream Park as the legal basis to open the casino, which would house 2,000 slot machines. Resorts World is a subsidiary of the Malaysian conglomerate Genting that already operates the most lucrative casino in the United States at Aqueduct racetrack in New York. The permit was renewed after Gulfstream ran a single Quarter Horse race in April 2012 and issued to a company called Gulfstream Park Aftercare Racing Program.

It is uncertain if the proposal will pass muster without changes to the state’s gambling laws. The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which issues permits, said Tuesday that the GPTARP permit was issued for Broward County, not Dade County, which is where the casino is planned.

“The desire by the partnership is to do this through the legislature,” said Lonny Powell, executive director of the Florida Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which signed off on the plan.

Tim Ritvo, president of Gulfstream Park, said that the partnership is considering other options than site-specific legislation, which would face an uphill battle because of opposition from Disney, which is concerned about the possible impact of casinos on its theme parks, and from casino operators that would object to the grant of a gambling permit to a single company in the Miami area. Those options could include attempting to convince the division that the permit is valid for Dade County, or forcing the issue through the courts, Ritvo said.

“We’re not positive it requires legislation,” Ritvo said. “We obviously want to get the backing of the legislature, and we’re not looking to get into a fight.”

Both Ritvo and Powell said that the proposal includes specific percentages for the distribution of revenues from the casino, but they would not disclose them. Gulfstream Park and Genting will receive “administrative fees” from the casino, and other proceeds would flow to GPTARP for purses, breeders awards, capital improvements at Gulfstream, a Thoroughbred retirement program, contributions to a disabled jockeys’ fund, and a marketing program, both officials said.

The disbursement to racing constituents was critical to getting approval from horsemen and breeders, officials said. Horsemen’s groups had previously been wary of Gulfstream’s plans for the GPTARP permit, fearing that the company planned to open a casino without cutting horsemen in on the revenue.

Gulfstream is owned by the Stronach Group, a private company controlled by billionaire owner-breeder Frank Stronach. The track already operates a casino on its Hallandale Beach property, under the racing permit issued to the track.

Under the plan, the casino would be located in the former headquarters of the Miami Herald, on a 14-acre waterfront property on Biscayne Bay that Genting bought for $236 million in 2011. Genting bought the property as a bet that it could convince the legislature to approve a massive casino and resort there.

Florida’s legislature has shot down laws that would allow standalone casinos twice in the past decade. Late in 2013, the legislature held a series of public hearings on changing the state’s gambling laws to allow casinos, in anticipation of crafting a new set of laws this year.

Powell said the partnership believes it has an outside chance to convince the legislature to approve the deal, in some form or another.

“I’d work it into my exacta or trifecta,” he said. “It’s not chalk, that’s for sure, but you don’t know unless you try.”