Hialeah, Gulfstream Battle Over Racing Permit

Hialeah, Gulfstream Battle Over Racing Permit
Photo: Coady Photography
Hialeah president John Brunetti

Gulfstream Park and Hialeah Park are battling over the Thoroughbred racing permit the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering took away from Hialeah in 2003.

The regulatory agency said the permit can’t be reissued. But Hialeah believes the permit is available and plans to expand its efforts to get it back, track president John Brunetti said Dec. 16.

Gulfstream is seeking the former Hialeah permit with a goal of possibly using it to expand the hours of its poker room, said Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents the track. Brunetti, however, said he believes Gulfstream’s application for the permit is part of a longstanding effort by rivals to keep Hialeah from returning to Thoroughbred racing.

Dunbar said Gulfstream began considering the revoked Hialeah permit after it determined it was unlikely a pending Florida gaming law would take effect. That law would expand daily poker room hours from 12 to 24 on weekends and to 18 on weekdays under each pari-mutuel permit.

“We thought the Hialeah permit might be available (to another applicant), so we jumped in with what amounts to a Hail Mary pass,” said Dunbar, a partner in the Pennington Law Firm in Tallahassee.

Gulfstream on Nov. 29 asked the Florida DPMW if it could apply for the former Hialeah permit. On Dec. 10, Hialeah applied for reissuance of that former permit. On Dec. 15, the Florida DPMW sent letters to both tracks telling them the permit cannot be reissued.

The DPMW revoked Hialeah’s permit in 2003 after it determined the track violated a state law by not holding races during two consecutive years (2002 and 2003). Hialeah reopened Nov. 28 with a Quarter Horse permit, and is holding a 40-day meet for that breed through Feb. 2, 2010.

If Gulfstream could obtain the former Hialeah Thoroughbred permit, it would consider dividing its annual 80-day meet into two 40-day meets, and have two active permits for poker, Dunbar said.

Gulfstream has a Quarter Horse permit, and using it would enable the track to expand its poker hours. But the track believes that running a Quarter Horse meet of the minimum required 40 days would not be economically feasible, Dunbar said.

Despite the determination by the Florida DPMW, Hialeah believes its former permit “is available,” Brunetti said. “We will continue to pursue avenues to get it reissued,” he said, without discussing details.

In a 2004 Florida administrative hearing, Hialeah lost its appeal of the Florida DPMW’s decision to revoke its license. A Hialeah lawsuit, claiming the Florida DPMW action was not constitutional, is pending for hearings in a state court in Miami.

In its Dec. 10 letter, Hialeah told the Florida DPMW it would drop that suit if the agency reissued the former permit.

Hialeah is one of the few Florida pari-mutuel facilities, among 28, that does not have a poker room. It plans to open one within several months.

Gulfstream had poker room receipts of $1.2 million for the four months from July through October this year, according to the Florida DPMW. That is an 8.5% increase from the same period in 2008. But Dunbar noted competition is growing, partly from three nearby pari-mutuel facilities that have two permits for their sport and thus can have poker rooms operating 24 hours a day.

Calder Race Course, Dania Jai-Alai, and Greyhound track Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming obtained their second permits from entities that closed or otherwise gave them up voluntarily.  All three split their calendars into two meets, such as the Calder and Tropical meets, and thus use both permits for poker.

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