All's Not Well in FL 'Racino' Land

A battle over racing exists at a Florida harness track with slot machines.

by Jim Freer

Isle Racing & Casino at Pompano Park will cut race purses about 35% starting Feb. 22, and will not hold harness racing on Monday and Wednesday nights during most of March and April. 

Management of the Pompano Beach, Fla., racetrack notified the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association about those changes in an e-mail dated Feb. 17.

The situation is an example of growing complications with the marriage of racing and gaming at Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks in states around the country. For various reasons, it hasn't been a panacea.

Pompano has a $2.7-million purse overpayment “that cannot go any higher,” and needs to hold purses to $12 million for its 2007-08 meet, Steven Wolf, the track’s senior director of racing operations, said in the e-mail.

The changes are “outrageous,” said Jeffery Schneider, an attorney who represents the FSBOA. They are part of what FSBOA considers Pompano’s effort to de-emphasize live racing and focus on the slot-machine casino it opened in April 2007, he said.

“Their card room is doing better than expected, their simulcast is doing better than expected, and their slots play is more than the other two (Broward County pari-mutuel facilities) combined,” said Schneider, an attorney with Miami law firm Tew Cardenas.

The $12 million in purses, from all combined sources, is a record for Pompano and is $2 million higher than in 2006-07.

The overpayment is “cumulative over the last few years,” Wolf said. During those years, Pompano paid purses it said were higher than what revenue warranted because the FSBOA was joining it in election campaigns for approval of slot machines.

The central issue in FSBOA dispute with Pompano and its St. Louis, Mo.-based Isle of Capri Casinos is distribution of slots revenue. That is a dollar pie in which South Florida pari-mutuel outlets are competing among themselves, as well as with tribal casinos.

Pompano began its season last September without a contract between the track and the FSBOA. After the parties could not agree on a percentage of revenue that horsemen would receive from slot machines, Pompano authorized its $12 million all-sources payment.

A law Florida passed in 2005 requires Gulfstream Park to pay a specified percentage of slots revenue to the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, but does not have a similar requirement for Pompano and the FSBOA.

In April 2007, the FSBOA filed a civil suit that seeks an order for Pompano to pay it a percentage of slots revenue to purses. Attorneys are taking depositions in the suit in a state court in Fort Lauderdale.

Wolf’s e-mail said Pompano will not hold Wednesday races from Feb. 27 through the end of April, and will not hold Monday races from March 10 through the end of April. Pompano, Florida’s only harness track, will continue to hold races on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We are going to meet with the horsemen later this week and work out a plan for the remainder of the season” through August, Wolf said.

The state law requires pari-mutuel facilities with casinos to continue to hold various minimum numbers of live events each year.

Year-to-date through Feb. 10, Pompano had $54.8 million in  play on its Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines, according to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. That was more than the combined $18.5 million at Gulfstream and $32.1 million at Greyhound track Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming, both in Hallandale Beach.

Wolf said Pompano officials would not comment on the possible impact of heightened competition from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which is upgrading its casinos from Class II bingo-like machines to Class III machines. On Jan. 29, Miami-Dade County voters approved Class III machines for Calder Race Course and the county’s two other pari-mutuel outlets.

This year, Pompano and Calder began simulcasting Gulfstream races. Through Feb. 10, the first 34 days of Gulfstream’s meet, Pompano took $1,890,876 in bets on Gulfstream for an average of $55,614 per day. Wolf said that average “is right where we predicted it to be.”