03/09/2005 12:00AM

Split vote approves slots for Gulfstream, not Calder


Voters in two counties in south Florida split on the question of legalizing slots at parimutuel facilities on ballot referendums Tuesday, paving the way for slot machines at four sites in Broward County, including Gulfstream Park, but not at the Dade County track Calder Race Course in Miami.

The tally in Broward County was 57 percent in support of slots at parimutuel facilities, while in Dade, 52 percent opposed the machines. In November, voters in both counties approved putting the referendums on the ballot. Both November measures had passed by significant margins, although the margin in Broward was much higher than that in Dade.

The approval sets a deadline of July 1 for the Florida Legislature to pass a bill outlining the number of machines that will be allowed and how revenue from the machines will be divided among the state, horsemen, and parimutuel facilities. Gov. Jeb Bush, who fought against the measures as an opponent of expanded gambling, said prior to the referendum that he would work with the Legislature as long as voters approved the measure, but he is expected to push hard for the state's share of the gambling revenue.

The approval on Tuesday was a significant victory for Gulfstream, which is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. Magna has been counting on finding new sources of revenue to stem huge losses over the past three years, and had replaced its chief executive officer on the same day of the vote with an eye toward capitalizing on slots initiatives in Florida and other states while shoring up the company's financial condition.

Magna demolished the Gulfstream grandstand last year as part of a $145 million renovation that is scheduled to be completed by the beginning of 2006. Brian Budden, a spokesman for Magna on the Florida slots issue, said that Magna has not determined how the Tuesday approval will affect its construction plans or whether Magna will seek to run additional dates at Gulfstream.

"We're continuing with the redevelopment as planned right now," Budden said. "But we still need to sit down and assess how the legislation will impact us, and until we have a bill passed, we can't really make any decisions."

Slots will also be legal at three other parimutuel facilities in Broward County: Hollywood Greyhound Park, the harness track Pompano Park, and the Dania Jai Alai fronton.

Officials of Calder Race Course expressed disappointment Wednesday about the final tally, but said they hoped to return a measure to the ballot in 2007. Calder is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

"It's difficult to take, and a sad day for Dade County residents, who I truly believe made a bad mistake," said Ken Dunn, the general manager of Calder. "But we can come back on March 8, 2007, with all the facts and figures that we didn't have in 2005, and show that there have been jobs created, that teachers' salaries are up, and that there have been huge investments."

All seven parimutuel facilities that would have been eligible to operate slots worked together on the initiative, along with horsemen's groups representing Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. Dunn said he expected Magna and Churchill to continue to work together on the enabling legislation, a sentiment echoed by Budden, who said the bill "should work to benefit parimutuel racing throughout south Florida."

Linda Mills, the president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, called the split vote "extremely disappointing," but said that all parties had agreed to continue to work together.

"That was the big topic at campaign headquarters last night," Mills said. "And we all agreed that it's important to the Broward facilities that the Dade facilities stay on board. We have to remember that this is all for one and one for all."

Churchill Downs stock dropped $5.38, or 12 percent, to $39.12 on Wednesday, and Magna was down 29 cents, or 4 percent, to $6.54.