- 2014 - January - 8th -

Deal for slot machines in South Florida scaled back

By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Gambling operator Resorts World Omni has struck a deal with Gulfstream Park in the hope of getting slot machines rolling at a downtown Miami property. 

The proposal is a dramatically scaled-back version of the glamorous casino resort once pitched to — and rejected by — Florida lawmakers, and it hinges on a controversial permit at the horse track.

The agreement between Resorts World, a division of Malaysia-based Genting Group, and Gulfstream, along with breeders and thoroughbred horse owners and trainers, involves relocating a permit to the Miami bayfront property purchased by Genting in 2011 for $236 million.

Backers of the deal are hoping lawmakers will sign off on the plan, which they contend would be a major boon for the horse-racing industry in Florida, as the Legislature undertakes a sweeping review of gambling during the 2014 session. 

But others in the pari-mutuel industry say that, if approved, it would be a major shift in the state's gambling landscape and essentially "decouple" horse and dog racing from slot machine operations.

The permit at the heart of the deal was issued to the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program, a nonprofit linked to The Stronach Group, which also owns Gulfstream.

Proceeds from the nonprofit go toward caring for horses after they retire from racing, financing benefits for disabled jockeys and increases in purses.

But the permit has been entangled in a battle over whether the permit issued to the nonprofit, now called the Gulfstream Park After Racing Program, is in Broward County, where Gulfstream's permit is located, or in Miami-Dade County, as Gulfstream and its lawyers contend. 

The plan would give Resorts World entrée into the gambling world in South Florida although on a much smaller scale than the $3 billion luxury casino once envisioned at the 14-acre property, home to The Miami Herald for four decades.

Gulfstream President and General Manager Tim Ritvo called the agreement between the track, the casino operator and the horse industry "the single most important thing that's happened to thoroughbred racing in a long time."

Frank Stronach, one of the state's largest landowners and largest horse breeders, is backing the deal with Resorts World because the deal could pump millions into the horse industry, Ritvo said.

"Our ownership is heavily, heavily invested in horse racing," Ritvo said. "He's interested for his legacy to be a positive impact on thoroughbred racing and this permit does that."

South Florida tracks, including Gulfstream, at one time viewed "destination resort" proposals pitched by Resorts World and other out-of-state gambling operators skeptically, saying they already had a difficult time competing with Seminole Indian casinos. 

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