Gulfstream Park Cuts Slots
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
The slots parlor at Gulfstream Park
Magna Entertainment Corp. has overhauled the ailing slots operation at its Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino complex by reducing the amount of machines it offers and expanding its simulcasting area.

In a letter to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Gulfstream said by reducing the amount of machines from the previous bank of about 1,200, it would add “back into those vacant areas more simulcasting to accommodate the demands of our racing fans” in order to increase revenues over 2007.

“We believe we can do that with fewer machines,” said the Oct. 30 letter signed by Michael Couch, who is listed as Gulfstream’s slots operations director.

Initially, the cut has trimmed the amount of slots to the 516 currently located on the second floor, but could be increased to more than 800 by the time the renovation is complete in December, MEC’s new vice president of gaming, Steve Calabaro, told the Miami Herald.

“'We're going to blow the socks off people in terms of video poker offerings,'' Calabro told the newspaper. “We're going for quality versus quantity.''

Calabro did not immediately return a call from The Blood-Horse.

Florida statistics show Gulfstream operated 1,217 slots as recently as July, but reduced the number to 1,089 in October. During that time period, the net-win averaged $68 to $81 per machine. Since reducing to 516 machines during the second week of November, the net-win has averaged between $152 and $173.

Broward County (Fla.) pari-mutuel competitors Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center, and The Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park have regularly outperformed Gulfstream, often approaching or exceeding $200 in net-win average.

The letter said some of the existing machines could be sold to Remington Park -- MEC’s racino in Oklahoma -- sold to a third party, or put into storage on the fourth floor of the Gulfstream facility.

A spokesman for the division of pari-mutuel wagering said the letter was more of a courtesy than anything else.

“I’m not sure if they were required to submit it,” said spokesman Sam Farkas. “We regulate them, so we would have found out about it anyway. It was just a matter of them letting us know in advance.”

MEC, which is in the middle of an ambitious debt-reduction plan for its entire corporate structure, in early November in part blamed Gulfstream’s poor slots performance for the company’s third-quarter loss of $49.8-million.

In other Gulfstream developments, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has confirmed an active criminal investigation into the casino side of the operation, but has declined to provide details.

The Miami New Times, which is a weekly alternative newspaper and on-line publication, has reported through anonymous sources that the investigation is focused on an alleged theft-ring organized by some Gulfstream employees. Citing “sources in the gambling industry and in Tallahassee,” the New Times alleges certain employees illegally used or sold promotional cards containing free credits on slot machines.

FDLE spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes told The Blood-Horse she couldn’t comment on any specifics of the investigation, but said it is limited to the slots side of the operation.

“I have been asked if it has anything to do with horse racing. It does not,” she said, adding the investigation has been on-going for several months. Gulfstream opened its slots operation in November 2006.

Gulfstream has also joined the Florida House of Representatives in a legal action against the casino compact signed Nov. 14 by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe.

Citing office authority granted by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Crist independently negotiated and signed the compact, which gives Class III gaming rights to seven Florida tribal casinos, including the Hard Rock in Broward County.

The Florida House has asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the agreement, saying Crist’s dealings in the compact overstepped the boundaries of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. In its motion, Gulfstream claims the allowance for Class III gaming, which includes “banked” card games such as blackjack, will “jeopardize” the track’s ability to contribute its $30-million in annual revenue and taxes to the state.

Most Popular Stories