Gambling giant Resorts World Omni is finalizing a deal with Gulfstream Park to add slot machines to a property in downtown Miami, if they can get the necessary permit transfer.
The deal is not the glamorous casino resort originally suggested to Florida lawmakers, but a scaled-down version that rests on relocating a permit issued to the thoroughbred track, reports Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida.
The pact between Resorts World, a division of the Malaysian Genting Group, and the group including Gulfstream, thoroughbred horse owners, breeders and trainers all rests on securing a gambling permit for the $236 million bayfront Miami property purchased by Genting in 2011.
Backers of the deal hope that lawmakers will agree to the plan, which could be a significant windfall for Florida’s horseracing industry, while the Legislature embarks on an extensive evaluation of gambling during the 2014 legislative session.
Others in the pari-mutuel industry see the acceptance of the agreement as a radical shift in Florida gambling, essentially “decoupling” slot machine operations from horse and dog racing.
Originally, the permit was issued to the non-profit Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program, part of Gulfstream owner The Stronach Group. Revenues from the program go toward caring for retired racehorses, increased purses and benefits for disabled jockeys.
According to Kam, the permit sits at the center of a debate over whether the permit for the non-profit, now known as Gulfstream Park After-Racing Program or “GPTARP,” is located in Broward County, the location of Gulfstream’s permit, or in Miami-Dade County, as asserted by Gulfstream lawyers.
Pari-mutuel permit holders in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties can operate up to 2,000 slot machines by Florida law. The deal would allow GPTARP to continue running horse races at Gulfstream, as Resorts World manages slot machine and card room facilities at a downtown Miami property.
Resorts World would then have an entrance into the South Florida gambling world, just on a much smaller scale than the $3 billion luxury casino originally planned for the 14-acre property, which was the 40-year home of The Miami Herald.
“We think we’re one of the preeminent gaming companies in the world. We’re looking for a way to move the initiative forward,” Resorts World CFO Christian Goode told the News Service . “This is just one opportunity or potential opportunity. If it’s not viable, then we’ll pursue other means.”
Tim Ritvo, president and general manager of Gulfstream, calls the deal “the single most important thing that’s happened to thoroughbred racing in a long time.”
Joe Stronach, a leading Florida horse breeder and major landowner, supports the Resorts World deal because the terms mean millions for the horse industry, Ritvo said.
“Our ownership is heavily, heavily invested in horse racing,” Ritvo added. “He’s interested for his legacy to be a positive impact on thoroughbred racing and this permit does that.”
At one time, Gulfstream and South Florida tracks skeptically viewed “destination resorts” pitched by Resorts World and other gambling operators, especially in light of the competition from Seminole Indian casinos.
“We don’t completely disagree that the full-blown destination casinos would hurt us,” Ritvo said. “This is the alternative. This is the compromise where we can create new industry or a new casino that really helps … subsidize the industry that has been here for many, many years.”