Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Could Gaming Compact Doom Tampa Bay Downs?


Tampa Bay Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube says the track “might not be in a position to continue” racing if the Florida legislature accepts the latest gaming compact between Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

That compact, signed Aug. 31, likely would prevent Tampa Bay Downs from adding slot machines, which Berube said “could help mitigate the competition” from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. Since last year, that tribal casino has had blackjack and baccarat as well as Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines.
The compact has several changes from a gaming bill the legislature passed in May 2009 and Crist signed the following month. Several leaders of the legislature are opposing those changes, thus raising the prospect that no gaming law will become effective in Florida this year.
Berube is still concerned because of a controversial provision of the compact that is not part of the May law.
The compact would allow the Seminoles to stop paying a portion of gaming revenues to the state if Florida allows any casino-style gaming, including slot machines, at pari-mutuels outside the southeast Florida counties of Broward and Miami-Dade.
Tampa Bay Downs, in Oldsmar on the north end of Tampa Bay, is 19 miles from the Seminole Hard Rock, several miles east of downtown Tampa.
“They are in a good location,” Berube said. “You can go there and see players who were coming here but are now there for blackjack and baccarat. Some were among our larger (poker) players and also bet on live and simulcast races.”
Tampa Bay Downs and most of Florida’s other 26 pari-mutuels have poker rooms open year-round for 12 hours a day.
Three Greyhound tracks in the Tampa Bay market also have been losing customers to the Seminole casino, Berube said.
This year from, Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, combined on-track handle at those tracks and Tampa Bay Downs was down 23.4% compared with 2008, according to Tampa Bay Downs’ review of data provided to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
“Statewide, it was down 14.2 percent,” Berube said. “The economy is one reason, here and around the state. The decline is bigger here because of competition from the Seminoles.”