05/09/2014 2:03PM

Less slots money key to Florida deal


Florida’s horsemen have agreed to accept less money from a slot-machine operation at Calder Race Course in a proposal that seeks to end head-to-head racing between Calder and its south Florida neighbor, Gulfstream Park, according to officials of the group representing horsemen in the state.

The board of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association approved the cut in slots subsidies in a vote on Thursday night on a proposal made by Gulfstream Park to end head-to-head racing. Gulfstream’s proposal, which was presented to the FHBPA board last week, outlined a deal between the two tracks that would allow Gulfstream to run the racing operations at Calder while allowing Calder to retain control of its casino.

FHBPA executive director Kent Stirling would not provide details of the proposal approved by the horsemen other than to confirm that the horsemen agreed to the cut in slot subsidies. Under an agreement with Calder, horsemen receive a set percentage of the slot-machine revenue at the track’s casino.

Calder and Gulfstream have been running head-to-head for most of the past year. The competition has strained the ability of the two tracks to fill races and put pressure on their parent companies because of losses of revenue and increased expenses.

Gulfstream is owned by the Stronach Group, a private company controlled by the billionaire owner-breeder Frank Stronach. Calder is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., the publicly traded company that also owns Churchill, Arlington, and Fair Grounds.

Last week, Gulfstream and Calder officials confirmed that they had come to a deal allowing Gulfstream to lease Calder’s racing operations. Under the deal, according to the officials, Gulfstream would race the majority of dates during the calendar year, with Calder racing a smattering of dates in the fall, about 40 cards in all.

Because of strained relations between Calder and the FHBPA, Gulfstream officials have been acting as go-betweens in trying to get final approval of the deal. Officials of Gulfstream did not immediately return calls seeking comments, though the FHBPA proposal likely needs to be evaluated by attorneys.

In a statement, Phil Combest, president of the FHBPA, said: “I have to believe we’re closer to an agreement than we’ve ever been. No question it’s not a perfect document, but it’s a document which allows racing to continue and grow in south Florida and is acceptable to horsemen.”