by Mike Vogel
When Broward County horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons won the legal right in 2005 to offer slot machines, owners rushed to put in slots and reap the profits — with one exception. Dania Jai Alai, eight years later, still offers no slots — and has suffered from its reliance on the “fastest game on earth.”
Now, however, an Argentine business group that recently bought the fronton says it plans to install 500 slots by year-end and approximately 1,400 within a few years. “Their intent is to get up and going with the slot machines as soon as possible,” says the group’s attorney, John Lockwood, a Tallahassee lawyer who specializes in gambling law and represents clients in the casino and pari-mutuel industry.
|Losing the Handle:
Change in total amount of bets at larger Florida jai alai frontons
|Fronton||2011-12||Decline from 2006-07|
|Dania||$9.3 million||– 56%|
|Fort Pierce||$301,636||– 44%|
|Miami||$8.9 million||– 58%|
|Summersport / Dania||$5.3 million||– 63%|
|Summer / Miami||$5.2 million||– 76%|
|Total / all frontons||$30 million||– 63%*|
|*includes all eight Florida frontons
Source: Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering
The Argentines bought the fronton in May for $65.5 million from Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, which itself had paid $152 million in 2006. The fronton suffers from its proximity to the Seminole Tribe’s massive Hard Rock, which offers 2,500 slots and more gambling options.
But the new owners aren’t deterred. “It’s a very good location,” Lockwood says. He says the group owns 27 casinos in Argentina, some under the Casino Club brand, each unique, each catering to its particular market and focused on customer service, amenities and experience. Dania is its first investment outside Argentina. It will have to continue offering jai alai to keep its license.
The group plans to renovate a small part of the building immediately while taking more time to renovate the rest. The 1,400 slot machines will leave Dania second only to Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park, which averaged 1,442 in operation last year, among the state’s pari-mutuels.