01/30/2008 12:00AM

Voters approve slots at Calder


Voters in Miami-Dade County, Fla., on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a referendum that will allow the county's three parimutuel facilities, including Calder Race Course, to open slot-machine parlors.

The referendum passed by a vote of 63 percent to 37 percent. In late 2005, Miami-Dade voters defeated the same measure by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent, even as voters in Broward County approved an identical measure.

The approval will allow Calder, Flagler Greyhound Track, and Miami Jai-Alai to install as many as 2,000 slot machines each. Calder, which runs live racing dates from late April until early January, is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

In a statement Wednesday, Churchill chief executive Robert Evans said the company was not prepared to discuss its plans for a casino at Calder, but that details likely would be released during the company's regular quarterly conference call in March.

Churchill's Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans also is allowed to operate slot machines, and the track has 250 slots in a temporary facility. A permanent facility, scheduled to open in the fall, will have 700 slots.

Churchill's stock on Wednesday closed at $49.49, up $3.52, or 7.66 percent.

Slot machines are already legal in Florida at three parimutuel facilities in Broward County, including Gulfstream Park. However, revenues from the slot machines at Gulfstream have been well below expectations, and the track's parent, Magna Entertainment Corp., recently pared the number of machines from 1,500 to 800 because of the poor performance.

Under rules already passed by Florida gaming regulators, the state will receive 50 percent of the net revenue from the slot machines and the rest will go to the tracks. The rules also require that Thoroughbred facilities have agreements with horsemen's groups on a cut of the revenue before they can begin taking bets with the machines.

The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has an agreement with Gulfstream in which purses get 7.5 percent of the revenue, with an additional 0.75 percent going to breeders. Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA, said Wednesday that Churchill had already contacted the horsemen about a cut of the revenue, but he declined to provide the exact figure.

"I can say that we thought it was a good starting point," Stirling said.

Slot machines are also legal at Native American casinos just five miles north of Calder. The machines at those casinos have significantly outperformed the machines at the parimutuel facilities. Recently, the tribes signed a compact with Gov. Charlie Crist allowing for the installation of a different class of slot machine that is thought to be far more profitable than those already in operation. In addition, the pact allows the Indian tribes to offer blackjack and baccarat.