Casino would buy Miami Jai-Alai if slots OK’d

If Miami-Dade County voters decide in January to allow slot machines at the county’s parimutuels, the election could trigger the sale of venerable Miami Jai-Alai to a company that already owns casinos in Broward County and the Bahamas.

The Isle of Capri, a St. Louis-based company with 18 casinos including four overseas sites, entered into an agreement in 2004 that gives the casino company first right to negotiate to purchase the Miami Jai-Alai property from owner Florida Gaming — if the slots initiative passes.

The two companies struck the deal before the 2005 election in which Broward voters approved slots but Miami-Dade voters narrowly rejected them. Isle of Capri already owns the Isle of Capri casino at Pompano Park, a harness track in Pompano Beach it bought in 1994, as well as a casino on Grand Bahama, part of the Our Lucaya resort.

Adding a third casino in the region could create a profitable triangle of properties for Isle of Capri, said Allan B. Solomon, executive vice president and general counsel for the company.

„You have opportunities for joint marketing. You have opportunities to make available to some of your players the ability to travel over to the Bahamas as a reward,“ he said. „You also have the two facilities [Broward and Miami-Dade] not too far away from one another — some executive management functions could be combined.“

Industry analyst Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, characterized Isle of Capri as a mid-sized, reputable gambling company that appeals principally to local gamblers.

„This is not one of the big guys but not a small fry either,“ he said. „They’ve developed a brand that has grown steadily over the years through operations and acquisitions in regional markets.“

The company began with river boat gambling and now includes casinos in states such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Colorado, along with casino properties in the United Kingdom and the Grand Bahama site.

The jai alai property, built in 1926 at 3500 NW 37th Ave., is one of three parimutuels in Miami-Dade — along with Calder Race Course and Flagler Dog Track — that could open casinos if county voters say yes to the initiative on Jan. 29. It will be the second vote on the issue since voters statewide gave Broward and Miami-Dade the local option to decide about casinos.

„We think the facility is in a good location and we think it would be profitable, assuming that Miami-Dade votes on Jan. 29 to implement the slot legislation,“ Solomon said.

The agreement between Florida Gaming and the Isle of Capri extends for six months after the election and also includes a USD 5 million loan to the jai alai company. If the two companies do not reach an agreement for a sale within six months after a yes vote on casinos, the agreement is void. The loan also comes due in 2008. A price for the company was not set.

Florida Gaming Chairman and CEO W. Bennett Collett said that a slots operation could thrive in such a centrally located spot.

„I see Miami Jai-Alai as one of the best casino sites in the country. It’s right in the middle of such a greatly populated area,“ he said. „I think it would be a wonderful move.“

Florida Gaming has owned Miami Jai-Alai for about 10 ½ years, he said.