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Higher Purses, Lights on Tap at Gulfstream

Florida track plans to install lights prior to 2011 meet.

Gulfstream Park will have more money coming from slot machines and poker for purses, more betting stations, and a larger betting menu for the 2011 meet that will also feature the installation of lights.

The meet at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track begins Jan. 5.

Gulfstream’s parent MI Developments "has stepped up to the plate" for larger purses, and the track’s purse contributions from slots and poker are up since July 1 following a Florida law change, Gulfstream general manager Steve Calabro said Sept. 2.

Gulfstream’s plan to install lights was first reported in Daily Racing Form Sept. 2, based on information provided by Dennis Mills, the CEO of Aurora, Ontario-based MID.

Mills said Gulfstream will install lights even though Florida law does not permit Thoroughbred racing after 7 p.m. He said Gulfstream hopes the Florida legislature will change that law during its two-month session that begins March 8.

Gulfstream will end its 2011 meet April 24. Thus, it is extremely unlikely Florida will allow night racing prior to the end of that Gulfstream meet.

Calabro confirmed the plan to install lights. "It is corporate-wide initiative that is being driven by the corporate team," he said.

Calabro said Gulfstream will raise its average daily overnight purses about 15%, from $215,000 in 2010 to $250,000 in 2011. Combined with stakes, Gulfstream’s average daily purses will be about $350,000.

Gulfstream will add an early pick four bet and is considering more new bets, said Calabro, who is entering his first racing season as Gulfstream’s top executive. Gulfstream will expand its number of betting stations during the meet from 400 to 450, he said. That is a combination of tellers and automatic terminals.

MID on Aug. 27 announced a program at Gulfstream, Santa Anita Park, and Golden Gate Fields that offers up to $5.5 million in bonuses for a horse that wins 3-year-old prep races at those tracks and goes on to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 21. MID also owns Pimlico Race Course, the Preakness site.

On Sept. 2, Gulfstream released its 2011 stakes schedule--with additional details about that program for its Jan. 29 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and April 3 Florida Derby (gr. I), which will have a purse of $1 million next year.

Calabro said Gulfstream will soon announce a bonus program for 3-year-old fillies that run in its prep races for the April 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II). That 1 1/8 mile race was previously known as the Bonnie Miss.

On Saturday, April 2, and Sunday, April 3, Gulfstream will hold its first "Florida Derby Festival Weekend," with six graded stakes over two days. It is calling that Saturday "Ladies Day," and will have racing-oriented promotions for female fans.

Gulfstream is returning the Florida Derby to a schedule in which it is run five weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 7. From 2005 to 2009, Gulfstream held the Florida Derby five weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby, but in 2010 it fell six weeks before the classic in Louisville, Ky.

Calabro said Gulfstream and many horsemen believe the five-week timing is a better progression.

"In 2010, we continued our strong record of sending horses to the Triple Crown," he said. Calabro noted that nine of the 20 Kentucky Derby entrants raced at Gulfstream. In addition, 51% of Triple Crown starters raced or trained at Gulfstream or trained at MID’s Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.

By moving the Florida Derby to a Sunday, Gulfstream hopes to build a major two-day weekend for on-site fans and bettors around the country, Calabro said.

Calabro has headed Gulfstream’s casino and poker operations since September 2007. In its two casino rooms, the track has 846 Las Vegas-style slot machines.

A Florida law that took effect July 1 reduces the state tax rate from 50% to 35% on net slot machine revenue at pari-mutuel facilities.

Gulfstream and Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens are among the five Florida pari-mutuel facilities with casinos and slot machines that are permitted for racetracks and jai-alai frontons only in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Enactment of the law triggered a clause in Gulfstream’s contract with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, raising Gulfstream’s slots-related contribution to purses from 6.75% to 14.25% of net slots revenue. The law also allows all Florida pari-mutuel outlets to have poker rooms open 24 hours on weekends and 18 hours on weekdays. The previous limit was 12 hours per day.

In addition, Gulfstream and other facilities can now offer no-limit poker games. Gulfstream is doing that, and continues to offer games with various betting limits.

Florida pari-mutuel facilities’ poker receipts, basically net revenue, are from the so-called "rakes" they take as a percentage of money from each hand and from players’ buy-in fees for games and tournaments. At Calder and Gulfstream, 47% of poker receipts are contributed to purses, and 3% to breeders’ awards. Florida pari-mutuel facilities pay a state tax of 10% on poker receipts.

Gulfstream’s poker receipts were up from $329,326 in July 2009 to $428,353 in July 2010, according to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

"That is a 30% increase, and the numbers will show us up even more in August," Calabro said.

Gulfstream promoted Calabro to general manager, the track’s top job, on May 27. He succeeded Ken Dunn, who resigned after serving as Gulfstream president and general manager since last Nov. 1.

Calabro had been Gulfstream’s vice president of gaming operations since September 2007. He now has responsibility for racing, gaming, and all operations.

"Steve Calabro has done a wonderful job since he came to Gulfstream, and is continuing to do that," said Sam Gordon, president of the Florida HBPA. "He was very involved since his first day (as general manager) in meeting with horsemen to set up next year’s schedule and played a big role in the Preakness bonus program. The horsemen are looking forward to working with Steve."

Calabro, 52, spent most of his career working in management for casinos owned by Harrah’s and Trump International Resorts.

Calabro said he has been "an avid racing fan" since the late 1970s when he began going to Monmouth Park and Meadowlands in his native state of New Jersey. "In business, I have been a ‘slots guy’," he said. "But I have learned about the racing business at Gulfstream from the former presidents here."

Calabro said Gulfstream’s team of three top racing officials is in place for 2011. They are Bernie Hettel, director of racing operations; Dan Bork, racing secretary; and Cliff Hopmans, director of horsemen’s relations