Calder Hopes Poker Shift Increases Revenue

The track is near the bottom revenue-wise among outlets with poker rooms.

Calder Casino & Race Course is planning a mid-December move of its poker room from its racing building to its casino building, perhaps in an effort to increase revenue.

The shift of poker, from which Calder's revenue is among the lowest for southeast Florida pari-mutuel facilities, is another indication of how the casino rather than racing appears to be the business with growth potential at the Florida racetrack. Calder's six-floor racing building, where the third and fourth floors have been closed for several years, is about 200 feet from the casino that opened in 2010.

Calder's 29-table poker room is rarely filled except for tournaments, Matt Harper, the track's director of advertising and public relations, said Nov. 7. Calder believes that in general there is more interest in poker among its casino customers than among its racing bettors, he said.

Data from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering show Calder had gross receipts or revenue of $740,289 from poker between July and September, the first three months of Florida's 2013-14 fiscal year. That placed it seventh among the eight Miami-Fort Lauderdale area pari-mutuel outlets that have poker rooms.

Calder asked the Florida DPMW for required permission to move it, Harper said.

"We hope to have approval in mid-December, and until then our current poker room will be open with its regular schedule," Harper said.

A state law allows pari-mutuel facilities to operate poker rooms 24 hours on weekends and 18 hours on other days.

Calder's original casino plan called for it to have the poker room in its casino. But for space purposes, it placed poker in an area near the racing building's west entrance.

Calder will move its poker room to an area just inside the south entrance of its casino, and have 14 tables. From Nov. 25 until the move, Calder will have 15 tables in the poker room in its racing building.

The new set-up will be similar to the current poker room in accommodating players who want to bet on Calder races and on simulcast races, Harper said. It will have betting machines, walk-around tellers, and television monitors that will show races.

Calder has not determined how it will use the space that now has poker, said Harper, who declined to comment on widespread speculation that Calder might close its Turf Club on the fifth floor and move it to the poker area.

Calder is considering conversion of the poker area to a simulcast room or to an area for parties and other special events, he said.

Gross poker receipts at Florida betting outlets are a combination of the "rake," or share of money bet on each hand, and money that players spend on buy-ins for games and tournaments.  Pari-mutuel facilities pay a state tax of 10% on the revenue.

Under an agreement with the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Calder and Gulfstream each put 47% of net poker revenue into purses and 3% into breeders' awards. During the recent July-September quarter, Gulfstream had approximately $1.3 million in net poker revenue to place it third among the eight southeast Florida pari-mutuel facilities.

Hialeah Park, which offers Quarter Horse racing, was fifth for the three-month period with about $1.1 million in revenue. Hialeah has been increasing it poker revenue since it opened its casino in August 2013.

Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park, a harness track with slots, led the way with $3 million in poker receipts.

Calder and the other southeast Florida pari-mutuel outlets compete for poker business with three Seminole Tribe casinos. The Seminole casinos also have blackjack, which is not permitted at pari-mutuel casinos in Florida.

Host-track receipts continue to drop

Also Nov. 7 Calder vice president and general manager of racing John Marshall was among the participants at a Florida DPMW hearing Tallahassee. The subject of the hearing was the agency's review of its rules regarding eligibility of Thoroughbred tracks to be host tracks for simulcasts of Thoroughbred races in other states.

Calder is questioning the Florida DPMW's May 2013 decision to allow Tampa Bay Downs to be a simulcast host track during periods when it does not have live racing. A host track sells those signals to other Florida pari-mutuel outlets.

Partly because of Tampa Bay's controversial participation as a year-round host track, Calder has fallen from first place in Florida's 2012-13 fiscal year to third and last place during the current fiscal year's first three months. In that recent quarter, Tampa Bay Downs provided host track signals that produced pari-mutuel wagering of $20.4 million--a 40% share of a $52.1 million market.

Gulfstream Park was second with $17.4 million, or 33%. Calder was third with $14.3 million or 27%.

In previous years Calder was the only Florida Thoroughbred track with racing from June through November, and thus the only one with host-track eligibility during those months

The remarks of speakers at the hearing were not yet available the night of Nov. 7. The Florida DPMW is taking comments through Nov. 22 and does not have a timetable for issuing revised rules.

Calder's decline in host-track business and resultant revenue is taking place while it is trailing neighboring Gulfstream by a more than 2-to-1 margin in all-sources handle. The two tracks have been racing head-to-head on Saturdays and Sundays since July 6, and are scheduled to continue to do so through the end of next June.

Between July 1 and Sept. 30, Gulfstream had average daily all-sources handle of $2,396,911 for 29 race days, while Calder averaged $1,121,618 for 39 days, according to Gulfstream's review of Equibase charts. The numbers include 13 Fridays for Calder and three weekdays for Gulfstream.