04/19/2010 11:00PM

Lower taxes for track casinos in Florida

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Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida will sign legislation passed in both houses of the state legislature that grants tax breaks to casinos at Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course and may pave the way for a casino at Hialeah Park, the governor said in a release after the state's House of Representatives passed the bill on Monday.

The bill puts in place a gambling compact granting the Seminole Indian tribe the exclusive right to operate table games at its Florida casinos in exchange for a guarantee of $1.3 billion in payments to the cash-strapped state over the next five years. The compact was negotiated two weeks ago between Gov. Crist and the tribe, and the Senate passed the bill last week.

Under the bill, the tax rate for slot-machine revenues at casinos at Gulfstream and Calder will fall from 50 percent to 35 percent. The racetracks had pushed for the concession by arguing that the introduction of table games at the Seminole casinos will create additional competition for customers.

Florida's horsemen receive 50 percent of the net revenue from slot machines for purse subsidies. In the first three months of the year, the pre-tax revenue at Gulfstream's casino has averaged about $5 million a month, according to figures published by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, while Calder's casino had total pre-tax revenue of $5.1 million in February and $5.8 million in March, according to the figures. Calder's casino opened in late January.

Although the bill appears to allow Hialeah Park to add 2,000 slot machines if it holds a race meet in two consecutive years, John Brunetti, the owner of Hialeah Park, said on Monday that he would not comment on the track's plans, either for the casino or any live race meets.

"We will have no comment on our plans until the legislative session is over," Brunetti said. "I've heard different variations of what's been passed."

Hialeah Park held a Quarter Horse meet from November 28, 2009, until February 2, 2010, in anticipation of complying with the legislation's requirement that the track hold live race meets for two consecutive years in order to qualify for a casino license.