Miami-Dade slots vote brings plans for high-roller attractions

Las Vegas-style slot machines are coming to Miami-Dade County, and with them promises of USD 100 million makeovers of gambling sites, luxurious facilities and more options for South Florida gamblers.

But before the first shovel is sunk or dollar borrowed, racetrack executives in Broward County have advice for their counterparts to the south. „I would say be careful. It’s hard to spend that type of money with the tax rate we have now,“ said Dan Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center in Hallandale Beach. „I just don’t see anyone throwing that type of money into what is essentially a broken system.“

Allan Solomon, executive vice president of The Isle Casino and Racing, owner of The Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Beach, was equally blunt about slots. „We expected better results. Frankly, it’s been disappointing,“ Solomon said. „We’re not getting the return on investment we thought, and I don’t see how the people in Dade will be able to build the type of facilities they’re talking about given what’s happened here.“

Broward County voters approved high-stakes slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities four years ago, and legislators finalized the plans about two years ago. But with slot revenues taxed at 50 percent, plus a USD 3 million annual license charge, profits have been thin at Broward’s three race track casinos.

In the seven months of this fiscal year, Broward’s casinos – The Isle, Mardi Gras and Gulfstream — have sent about USD 100 million in taxes to state coffers – half their profits, according to state figures. They’ve generated less than half of the profits that casinos had estimated.

But the lackluster results, coupled with a recent compact that allows the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack and baccarat games, haven’t dampened enthusiasm in Miami-Dade. On Tuesday, voters approved by nearly 2-1 a measure allowing slot machines at the county’s three pari-mutuel facilities.

„This is a very big day in Calder’s history because it gives us the type of tools we need to compete with two substantial casinos and cruises to nowhere,“ said C. Kenneth Dunn, Calder’s president. Flagler Dog Track executives said they plan to spend us$ 100 million upgrading their facility, while Calder expects to announce expansion plans in March. Daniel Licciari, vice president and general manager of Miami Jail-Alai, said his company will spend more than USD 150 million on revamping its facilities.

All grand openings are more than a year away. „Although the temptation is to get it up and running, it’s more important that we do it right and have something that can compete for a long time,“ Licciari said.

Executives interviewed Wednesday said they don’t think the Miami-Dade slots vote will hurt Broward.