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All Bets Are Off

Gulfstream Park, Hallandale Beach [Photo: Eileen Escarda]

Miami-Dade County voters will decide in January whether to allow Vegas-style slot machines there. The Seminoles are poised to expand their impressive gambling operation. Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming’s Dania Jai-Alai in Broward County expects to open its Vegas slot machines later this year. And for a time in the last legislative session, statewide video lottery gambling was on the table.

Gambling’s on the march in Florida, but the first partial year of Vegas slot revenue numbers raises the question of whether the market is saturated already.

» "I would have thought we would be doing a little bit better than we are now."
— Allan B. Solomon, executive vice president, Isle Casino & Racing

The state had projected average revenue of more than $200 per machine daily; some independent analysis had put it as high as $400. But Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, the first Broward pari-mutuel to open slots, hit $400 a machine only in November, its first partial month, before falling off to $70 in May and June. Mardi Gras Gaming in Hallandale Beach was under $200 per machine in April, May and June. Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Beach, which opened in April, fell under $200 in the second month of operation.

“I would have thought we would be doing a little bit better than we are now,” says Allan B. Solomon, executive vice president and general counsel for Isle of Capri Casinos, the St. Louis-based owner of the Pompano facility.

For the pari-mutuels, the key problem is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. A ubiquitous casino advertiser that also gets publicity from rock concerts, the tribe has proved a formidable adversary even when stuck with the video-bingo Class II, slotlike machines. “Competing with the Hard Rock is difficult,” says Mike Mullaney, media relations director for Gulfstream Park.

That said, individual pari-mutuels have more particular explanations for their slow start. People in south Florida, for example, are accustomed to Gulfstream’s horse races shutting down for the summer. Gulfstream managers were dismayed to discover that 46% of the people they polled in Hollywood assumed the casino was closed too. In response, Gulfstream increased advertising and offered free valet parking.

Pari-mutuel operators see glimmers of better things ahead now that the state, starting in July, allowed them to install ATM machines, extend operations to 24 hours a day on weekends and 18 hours a day on weekdays and liberalized poker playing rules.

But more competition is coming. The assumption in the industry is that Miami-Dade voters will approve slots at that county’s three pari-mutuels. It lost narrowly in 2005, a defeat backers attributed to popular Gov. Jeb Bush campaigning hard against it. Meanwhile, the Seminoles will ratchet up competition.

The pari-mutuels plan to rely on the individual selling points of their offerings, whether ambience, restaurants or particular services. “We’re proud of what we have,” says Gulfstream’s Mullaney. “We’re quite willing to compete with anybody.”

Play Dough
Slot revenue for the first partial year of operation through the end of June: