07/14/2006 11:00PM

Slots deal reached in Florida

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Florida horsemen and Magna Entertainment Corp. reached an agreement Friday night on a contract that will pave the way for Gulfstream Park to begin operating slot machines this fall.

The agreement came after six months of at times bitter wrangling between the two groups over the share of slots revenue that the horsemen will receive toward purses once slots become operational at Gulfstream. The racetrack and three other parimutuel facilities in Broward County were awarded the right to operate slots in a referendum passed by county voters last spring. A similar referendum failed to pass in Dade County, home of Calder Race Course.

According to Sammy Gordon, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the terms of the agreement call for Gulfstream to install 500 slot machines by Oct. 15. Horsemen will receive 7.5 percent of the earnings from those 500 machines. Once the track is able to expand to 1,500 machines, the maximum allowed under the new state law, the horsemen's take will drop to 6.5 percent of revenue for the first $200 million and swell to 12.6 percent of revenue in excess of that amount.

"This is a good deal for Magna and a good deal for the horsemen," said Gordon, who was instrumental in helping the two groups come to an accord. "This has been going on for six months, night and day, but once Frank Stronach got involved we were able to make it work, and we all owe him our thanks for helping to push this thing along. I think we've done a great thing here for Florida racing."

Stronach, the chairman of Magna, said Saturday, "We have come a long way over the past several months, and in the process have gained a better understanding of each other's views regarding the future of our industry."

Gordon estimates that as much as $4 million can be raised from the slots for overnight purses by the end of the 2007 Gulfstream meeting, and as much as $13 million more once the slots are in full operation by the 2008 season.