GAMBLING FUTURE IN FLORIDA LEGISLATURE PROPOSED

The first volley across the Florida legislature’s gambling bow has been fired by Naples area State Senator, Garrett Richter. He’s filed a bill which would allow the highest bidder(s) to erect a destination casino (favoring one in Fort Lauderdale and Miami). His proposal espouses the large number of jobs and economic boost via increased State taxes. House speaker, Will Weatherford in a surprise move suggested he might back gaming expansion IF it involves a statewide mandate and IF Governor Scott negotiates a new compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe before it expires next year (very doubtful). The legislature gaming commission is expected to endorse a powerful gaming commission which will result in tighter regulations. (needed)     

Sentiment about gaming expansion varies considerably around the State. The PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD composed a cogent editorial endorsing “decoupling” which would eliminate the arbitrary minimum number of greyhound races annually required to hold a poker or racino license. That is not necessarily gaming expansion, but it lowers or eliminates the costly operation of running dogs (ranging from 100 to 394 performances annually depending upon the size of the track).

The Miami Herald reported that the new law requiring Florida’s 13 greyhound tracks to disclose the deaths of all greyhounds within 18 hours is now in effect. The legislation, passed in 2010 took effect in May 2013. Previously greyhound deaths were not reported at all.

The Miami Herald and WTVJ TV Channel 4 reported that one of greyhound racing’s top kennels used the signature of a deceased vet to forge vaccination reports of dogs. Florida requires all greyhounds be vaccinated…to prevent such contagious diseases as kennel cough. The State is asking that the kennel owner be fined and his dogs be removed from all racing in Florida. 

Now in the midst of a very active gaming season, January provided positive revenues. State tax collections topped $15.5million and Net Slot Revenue was over $44.7million–up a hefty 16.9%.  Isle at Pompano passed $13million in NSR for January leading the other 6 racinos. Hialeah topped $5million for the first time and Mardi Gras and Flagler were both up from 2013. Gulfstream and Miami Jai Alai were off a bit and Calder was virtually even. Broward’s three properties were slightly ahead of their four Dade County counterparts in NSR. 

                                                                             Odds n’Ends

The Chinese have embarked upon a $3.5 Billion gaming resort at Cable Beach in Nassau. The Bahia Mar project scheduled for completion in December features 4 hotels, a 1500 slot/150 table casino and a Nicklaus golf course. The marketing is expected to be directed to the many gamblers in China as a destination resort on one of the Island’s finest beaches.The Import Export Bank of China is providing the bulk of the financing according to the Miami Herald, while the Chinese State Construction Engineering Corp. is the general contractor. With Genting building a destination casino on nearby Bimini, plus the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, it would appear that the Bahamas are in for a major upgrade for their long standing gambling industry.

Soccer star David Beckham and his group obtained rights to a MLS franchise in Miami IF a new, soccer- only, privately financed stadium is built. 6 downtown locations have been identified including several adjacent to the new Marlins stadium. The team could conceivably begin play in 2017.  Joe Robbie’s Strikers (NASL Ron Newman/Ray Hudson/George Best) in the 80’s and more recent MLS Miami Fusion FC both failed ultimately from lack of attendance and no corporate base. However, when top European and South American pro teams play exhibitions at Sun Life Stadium, sell outs are common. There’s been some rumors that the new soccer stadium might be combined with a new UM football stadium, which is highly unlikely considering the U has a lease agreement with Sun Life Stadium for another 20 years.

Tampa Bay Downs has leapt into the top 4 of simulcast signals in the country behind Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Aqueduct.  The track made a quantum leap when Gulfstream and Calder in South Florida began competing last summer. That head to head competition effectively snatched the “host track” designation for simulcasting from Calder. Tampa’s outstanding racing, busy turf course, and ability to attract owners, trainers and jockeys from across the land brought nationwide bettors to their signal in droves

 

World class pro sprinter, Olympic Gold medalist, Lauryn Williams (UM grad) went to the Winter Olympics at Sochi as the pusher for Elana Myers USA #1 Women’s Bobsled and won the Silver. Coaxed to go to the snow by fellow sprinter and veteran bob sledder, LoLo Jones, Williams learned the sport in less than a year.

NFL Dolphins hit a low point in their storied franchise of Robbie, Shula, Csonka and Marino. The disgraceful behavior in the locker room in “bullygate” has called into question the stewardship of Head Coach Joe Philbin, his assistants and senior management. The team had the largest increase in paid attendance in the NFL in 2013, a 12-percent bump to 64,319 following several years of decline. The increase was largely driven by group sales targeting schools, nonprofit organizations, youth sports and churches. Judging from the outcry on local sports radio, even long time diehard fans are unhappy with the team.

The perennial basement dwelling Florida Panthers have their hand out again, asking the Broward County Commission to give them $79Million in tourist taxes over the next 14years, plus the right to develop 22 acres north of their home the BB&T Center. The team, which has a new owner Vinnie Viola, claims it loses $20-30 million/year. Of course the unspoken but implied threat is that no tax support=time to move the team; leaving an empty arena in the tax payers laps. The Panthers arena and environs has been mentioned as a candidate for a destination resort casino.

 

FOOTBALL AROUND THE CORNER

Aside

 

The NFL season and NCAA football are beginning to twitch the sports writer columns and sports talk radio. The Dolphins are hot into pre-season games and UM is closing in on its final scrimmages before taking on FAU in the opener. We’ll have a look at the college football scene in our next epistle.

Hialeah Park is due to open its casino (slots) in late August. Though later than expected, the newest player on the racino landscape will surely have some impact on others……most likely Miami Jai Alai and Flagler (Magic City). As the results are published we will include in this column.

New Casino To Debut In Summer

New Casino To Debut In Summer

Casinos that are now open for business are: Seminole Hard Rock, Seminole Cypress Creek, Miccosukee Gaming, Isle Capri (Pompano Park) Mardi Gras (Hollywood), Calder (with live thoroughbred racing),Gulfstream, Miami Jai Alai, and Magic City (Flagler). Due to open end of year: Dania Jai Alai.

Catching up on local sports talk radio: WQAM 560 AM program director and afternoon drive talent, Jorge Sedano, leaves for ESPN Radio this fall. Sedano upgraded talent, added  diversity, and acquired a younger demo. He also brings ESPN  five years experience hosting Miami Heat TV programming, plus a Hispanic heritage.

Dan Lebatard (Miami Herald/ESPN/790AM The Ticket) highly rated afternoon drive for 10 years moves to afternoons on ESPN Radio (following Cowherd and the Mikes). His  Co-host is ESPN veteran Bamonte Jones who has appeared regularly Dan’s show for a year. The show will be Miami based with 3-4pm local talk,  4-7pm national. Stan Van Gundy is expected to continue as a weekly guest.

Dan Sileo, fired by WQAM earlier this year has surfaced as midday host on WMEN 640 AM serving mainly Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

BloodHorse Magazine reports that GP is spanking CRC in their first  dueling summer weekend meets. Gulfstream has nearly double the combined live and simulcast handle of Calder midway through their overlapping Saturday/Sunday racing.

NASCAR is having a so so season with most of the big names (Earnhart,Gordon, Edwards) firmly mired mid pack. Smoke broke a leg in a dirt track race and may be done for the season.The 48 car looks like he has his sights on recapturing the championship with Newman, Kahane, and possibly the 88 having something to say about it.

Beginning in August  we’re pleased to be back for our third year as Florida correspondants in GAMING TODAY, the venerable national sports/ gambling odds magazine published weekly out of Las Vegas. Our twice/month columns will be concentrating on things gambling and gaming and entertainment in our Sunshine State with occasional special visits to other major east coast communities and assesment of their gaming. The publication is on the web at www.gamingtoday.com

DOLPHINS STADIUM RENNOVATION, INTERNET CAFES ON LEGISLATIVE PLATE IN FLORIDA

Several critical sports/gaming stories are occupying the Florida State Legislature as the session hits the midway point: The fate of the Miami Dolphins stadium refurbishing and outlawing the “internet” cafes.

THE STADIUM

The Dolphins are in a race for time as their cause célèbre to get their privately owned stadium renovated using public funds is directed at Miami being selected the Super Bowl site for 50 or 51. Though the legislature seems disposed to authorize a vote by Miami Dade County citizens to allow a hike in the local bed tax from 6-7%, it cannot happen unless a deal is struck with Miami Dade County. Herein lies the problem. County Mayor Gimenez wants guarantees of the Super Bowl coming to Miami soon. However,  he is keenly aware that the last time such a deal came down when the Miami Marlins wrangled a new tax payer supported  3 Billion Dollar stadium without a vote, it caused the recall of  the then sitting Mayor who championed that deal.

Another roadblock is the county law requiring 30 days notice to the public of a pending vote. With the NFL scheduled to announce the site of the next two Super Bowls on May 22, the County must schedule a vote on either May 7 or 14. But until Gimenez and other commissioners are satisfied with the exact terms of the deal, a vote cannot be scheduled.  Another key stumbling point is what portion of the 1% increase in the bed tax will go toward the stadium and what portion will go to the general tourism marketing budget, other expansion projects (Convention Center) etc.

Media research polls on Miami Dade likely voters forecast a strongly negative (30—70%) reaction to using public funding. Auto dealer and civic activist, Norman Braman has spearheaded the opposition. Epithets hurled at the respected Braman by Miami Dolphins president/hired gun, Mike Dee have not helped the situation.

The Dolphins have promised just about everything they can to turn the tide including offering to pay for the referendum (5-7 Million) if it’s allowed, guaranteeing to reimburse the funding for the stadium over 30 years (no interest), and returning the funding if a Super Bowl does not emerge in the very short term.

Hospitality industry owner/operators are split on the deal. Many are against charging their guests another 1% for something they’ll never see or use; many feel the prestige (Miami has hosted 5) of the game is an important marketing component. Economists generally agree that the economic impact from a Superbowl on the local economy is negligible. Miami and the Beaches are in full tourism snowbird mode at Superbowl time every year.

It remains to be seen if the vote is either a NO or never happens, will  Dolphins owner Ross pony up the difference from his billions.

INTERNET CAFES

The Internet Café kerfuffle actually started 5+ years ago when several legislators introduced a bill to regulate the fledgling industry. Mainly located in rural and suburban strip malls, the small operations attract mainly senior citizens. More than 1000 such facilities are active in the State. Though the machines in these cafes look, sound and act like typical Vegas style slots, the owner/operators claim they are simply recreational games that require some skill to win.

Well, they are wrong. Experts have determined they are illegal slot machines. But, because the internet café interests spread around considerable money among State politicians, the proposed regulatory legislation stalled every year. That was until local and federal agents discovered that the owners were part of a consortium operating under an umbrella of a not for profit bogus corporation. It seems that the profits, claimed to be distributed among Veterans charities, kept the preponderance of the café money for themselves. A further inspection by the feds uncovered  a number of the individuals involved from the top down to the local operators were convicted felons with multiple convictions from fraud to wire and check writing scams.

The search further uncovered that while in the legislature Jennifer Carroll, Lieutenant Governor of the State had a direct relationship with the bogus company based in Jacksonville. Turns out her public relations agency represented the bogus charity. She resigned immediately in early March. Governor Scott, who is engaged in a major reelection battle, has distanced himself as far as possible from the internet café scandal. A wide number of sitting senators and representatives were proven recipients of cash donated to their reelection funds by the bogus charity. CONSEQUENTLY, they’ve been redirecting their tainted money to bonafide charities as fast as they can.

Additionally bills in the House and Senate to outlaw the “internet cafes” have sailed through with little or no opposition and the Governor is in the process of signing into law. The opportunity to license and regulate the business passed when all the illegal activities and people were uncovered.  The Racino industry, as well as the Indian tribal casino operators, has been carefully watching the process of the cafe bills with great interest. There’s no question that their legal slot business has been impacted.

The real elephant in the room though, is the lack of a regulatory body for gambling in the State. Even the legal casinos, poker rooms, frontons and race tracks operate on a series of gray area rules and regulations developed over many years by politicians on a catch as catch can basis. A potent political office/department staffed by knowledgeable gaming/gambling experts is desperately needed to set course of the industry in the fourth largest State in the USA.

With massive, legalized internet gaming on the horizon as the next great frontier of the gambling dollar, Florida is ill equipped to handle any venture. Always clever promoters will be a step ahead and find ways to rob the state of fees and taxes. The legislature has authorized a blue ribbon committee to study the state of gambling in Florida and recommend steps/rules/programs to take and make the best advantage of the enormous income to the state created by legal gambling.

GAMBLING REVENUES RISE IN FLORIDA

PALM BEACH KENNEL CLUB

The racino revenue report for August is out. Here’s the Readers Digest version of the state of gaming around Florida: The first comment is WOW, what a difference from the numbers in July!!! Even though the NSR was only marginally ahead of July’s by just .7%, it showed a very healthy 16.67% ahead of the same Net Slot Revenue for 2011…decidedly a “mixed bag” of NSR with Gulfstream (prior to the flood), Mardi Gras, Magic City and Calder down from 2011 and Pompano and the newbie, Casino Miami Jai Alai up.

An interesting dynamic has emerged, as each of the two counties authorized by the state now hosts three facilities. Miami-Dade County operations show an NSR of $16,529,250 — a bit more than the combined NSR for Broward County: Pompano, Mardi Gras and Gulfstream: $15,814,369.

As usual for the first seven months of 2012, Pompano leads all the facilities in NSR. Pompano, Mardi Gras and Gulfstream are under their July numbers while the three Miami area racinos are all over their July 2012 NSR. Casino Miami Jai Alai is doing good business and continued to show a small increase for the month. Magic City, which had a disappointing July, regained its number 2 position overall and, appears to recapture a portion of business that defected to nearby Casino Miami Jai Alai.  Magic City is still a bit behind their 2011 July but only slightly. Calder remains steady with their business keeping step with their demographics.

Pompano and Calder are free standing racinos that cater to only slot and poker players. Though adjacent to the race tracks in both cases, the buildings, the signage, parking and the atmosphere is clearly CASINO. Some pari-mutuel crossover is likely; but emphasis is very strong on the casino.   Pompano and Calder are both owned and operated by large gaming companies and have resources to construct these freestanding racino buildings.

Any expansion considered by the State during the upcoming legislative session should give careful examination to the ability and motivation of prospective permit holders to build a free standing facility or extensively remodeling one to be competitive. To reiterate an ongoing opinion in this space: the State of Florida immediately needs a Gaming Regulatory Board with power to not only regulate and monitor,  but to ensure the most tax revenue for the State.

 

 

 

Odds n’Ends:

Fort Myers and Lee County are not the only candidates for new racino/slot parlors in the Sunshine State. The swells in Palm Beach County tired of watching customers and dollars flow south to the slot palaces in Broward and Miami Dade will go to the polls in November to approve machines in their county. According to the Palm Beach Post, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, a thriving concern in its own right, is the object of the referendum.

Benefiting from a two decade old law, the PBKC has successfully offered live greyhound racing, and substantial horse and dog track simulcasts including live signals from nearby Gulfstream Park.  Horse players have been known to skip the drive to see and bet live thoroughbreds at GP in favor of betting GP in the friendly confines of the PBKC—where they can also bet all the national thoroughbred signals, plus a bevy of dog tracks and jai alai and play poker.

There’s no doubt that adding slots to the dog track would have a significant impact on other nearby racinos: most probably Isle Capri (Pompano Park) which is the current revenue leader in the State. PBKC is located smack dab in the middle of downtown West Palm Beach with an exit off I95, across the street from the airport, and a hop, skip and jump from Worth Avenue, PGA National, Tiger Wood’s crib, and the Breakers.

Opponents note that the vote is at best a “hypothetical exercise” since the Attorney General of Florida proclaimed slots outside of constitutionally mandated Miami Dade and Broward Counties to be illegal.

Kennel Club owners, the Rooney family, through a spokesperson allege that PBKC has been losing customers to the nearby legal racinos thus causing a competitive disadvantage. Over 600,000 fans attended the track last year.

Here’s a surprising development at Casino Miami Jai Alai headlined in the South Florida Business Journal: The long time Miami landmark is in a foreclosure lawsuit brought by the lenders that financed its construction. ABC Funding which manages the loan for several funds, filed the suit against Florida Gaming Corp on September 5. It also filed a similar suit against the Fort Pierce Jai Alai which is secured by the same mortgage.

At first blush it appears that the Jai Alai owners/managers grossly overestimated potential revenues and assets by 14Million+dollars attributable to projections for the introduction of the slots.

We bid adieu to the boys of summer hosted in Florida as both the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays finished out of the money. However, the new Marlins Stadium did well over 2Million in attendance, which was short of projections-but considering the lackluster performance of the team is encouraging for years to come. The future of the Rays remains cloudy, as a desperately needed ballpark in the Tampa Bay area is not going to happen in the foreseeable future….begs the question, with the Houston Astros now in the American League, where might the Devil Rays be relocated. A seemingly logical spot would be Orlando, which is the middle of the state, within short driving distance of Tampa, Fort Myers, Daytona and Jacksonville.  Hot Stove material until spring training. Only 171 days to pitchers and catchers.

BREAKING NEWS- The two incoming top leaders in the State legislature, Senate Prez Don Gaetz, and House Speaker Will Weatherford (both R) announced they plan to take a “time out” from the usual tweaking of gambling laws during the next two sessions to review the State’s posture and possibly create a State division for regulation—reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

SPORTS TALK RADIO WARS IN SOUTH FLORIDA

As October lurks with the annual confluence of professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey and NCAA football, the radio media goes into hyper drive trying to score during the important November ratings sweeps. Here’s a look at this year’s radio sports talk wars inSouth Florida. Ridiculous as it may seem, the four SoFlo counties with 8 million people has 4 full time sports talk radio stations. That’s 3 too many. Even inNYNY, Philly, LA or DC,Minneapolis,DetroitorDallas, two all sports stations might survive.

 And, that does not include the huge Hispanic language radio arena.

 When WQAM 560, 790/104.3 WAXY “The Ticket”, 940 WINZ “The sports Animal” and 640 WMEN, go head to head, advertisers are in a quandary about buying their male 25-54 demographic. Consequently, high profile talent on these stations look to provide any edge to attractFORDorBUDor HARLEY. All four sports station’s ratings added together fall short of the top rated FM music station.

 560’s been at it for nearly 3 decades. 104.3 FM recently joined the fray by acquiring the programming of 790AM, 940AM carries the Miami Dolphins- the king of the broadcast rights in the market, and WMEN appeals to the Palm Beach/Boca market due to a weak signal.

 For 20 years 560 mega talents Neil Rogers, Hank Goldberg and Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich ruled the sports talk airwaves. In the last decade newcomer 790 put a dent in their ratings causing the 560 Beasley management to fire their high profile talents and their large salaries.  790 largely behind the edgy/broader approach of afternoon drive talent, Dan Le Batard assaulted the 560 and stole audience persistently.

 In late August 790 owner,LincolnFinancial, shook up the market by moving  790 sports talk to  FM 104.3. The move exposes their programming to triple the right demo audience of the AM band. Similar moves in other markets suggest this will catapult  the station into a dominant ratings position. Having the broadcast rights to theFloridaMarlins andMiamiHEAT can only add to the ratings. The remainder of the 790/104.3 programming features popular ESPN syndicated host Colin Cowherdmiddayand ex ESPN anchor and Heat TV commentator Jason Jackson.

 Answering back, WQAM 560 added veteran talent Jorge Sedano as afternoon drive host and program director. Formerly 790’s morning drive dj he also hosted late night nationally on Fox Sports Radio and is a television personality doing weekend sports. He also is a member of the Heat broadcast staff. With Dolphins/TV personality Joe Rose, longtime host of 560 morning drive the station remains competitive.  560 also carries the broadcast rights of theUniversityofMiami—an eroding but loyal audience. The remainder of the programming includes long time exTampasports talk fav and ex UM Hurricane andDallasCowboy player, Dan Sileomiddaysand a polished Kevin Rogers at night. The QAM weekend hosts are by far the best of the bunch. Mike Levine hosts a nightly hour of baseball only programming during season—the only of its kind and well done.  

  940 AM WINZ —a Clear Channel station was the market’s longtime all news/talker. The station recently turned all sports and  won the expensiveMiamiDolphins broadcast rights which are extremely expensive and involve a complicated advertising agreement with the team. The games are also broadcast on FM 105.9 a sister station. AMiamiDolphins program aired in afternoon drive is a part of the rights contract. Programming includes syndicated Mike and Mike mornings, Dan Patrick and Jim Romemiddays, long timeMiamisports talk maestro, Jeff Deforrest evenings and Artie Lang’s syndicated show late. The remainder of the airtime is dreadful.

 WMEN is making an attempt to be a player in the market, but also seems content to air the New York Yankees games and feature Imus graduate Sid Rosenberg in morning drive.Rosenbergwhose personal travails are well chronicled, has worked for 790 and 560 for short stints since moving toSouth Florida. He began to show signs while on WQAM of competing opposite Le Batard’s 790 show— when he had another drug/alcohol induced meltdown and was fired by the station. WMEN grabbed him when his non compete ended and is expectingRosenbergwith his national contacts to attract more audience to the station.  The remainder of the programming is weak at best.

 With at least 25% of the radio audience Hispanic, the Spanish broadcast rights for the major teams have a significant ratings impact. WAQI carries the Marlins with HOF broadcaster Felo Ramirez, WQBA with Raul Striker is the longtime Dolphin play by play man; QBA also carries the HEAT with entertaining Jose Paneda.  Those audiences are loyal. The ratings are strong. And the advertisers, especially the Hispanic directed retail and auto advertisers are prominent.

 TheMiamiDolphins, heard on both WINZ and FM 105.9 feature ex Dolphins Jimmy Cefalo Joe Rose and Bob Griese in the booth. Long time HEAT play by play man Mike Inglis with ex Heat guard John Crotty handle the live games on 790 (there’s some question if Heat games can also be simulcast on the new FM signal 104.3). TheFloridaPanthers on WQAM are ably broadcast by ex-NHLbad boy Randy Moller. The UM football games on WQAM feature longtime Hurricanes voice Joe Zagacki.

 On the casino front something fishy is indeed going on at Gulfstream Park. The popular 13 foot tall saltwater aquarium sprang a leak on September 3rd late at night. Water damage closed both the first and second floor casinos. Repairs were underway quickly to mop up the 10,000 gallons of water and seal the crack. More than a dozen fish including sharks and puffer fish were in the tank. Plans to reinstate the popular attraction were on hold as of mid month.

ITS NFL TIME IN FLORIDA

With all three Florida NFL franchises completing a less than stellar exhibition season and opening day looming, here’s our snapshot of what to expect. The Florida teams are all firmly mired in mediocrity. Their days of glory (and relevance) are long gone.

For the most part these Florida franchises are devoid of much (any) major talent, have solid but largely untested head coaches, and are in one stage or another of rebuilding (whether they admit to it or not).

We will be quite surprised if any of the three make it to the post season.

 Mularkey at J’Ville has the only head coaching experience (Bills) which was hardly Lombardiesque; Philbin at Miami successfully piloted the Aaron Rogers express as OC for the Pack; his taciturn, boy scout profile has been well documented to the nation at large on HARD KNOCKS on HBO; Schiano comes to the Bay from Rutgers (?) via the Jimmy Johnson pipeline of the glory days of the UM Hurricanes (also long gone). He is a buttoned down, detail oriented coach who astonishingly made Rutgers relevant. He could do same given time at Tampa.

All three coaches are well grounded, no nonsense, with mainly new and excellent staffs, and are not looking back. As usual though, their collective opponents are difficult—as is customary for the mediocre teams in the league– and all three will need to vastly overachieve, have more than average luck, and rely on three young and upcoming qb’s.  

The Jags probably have the easiest schedule on paper; nevertheless, they have Bills, Pats, Texans and Pack (in GB) on the schedule. The team performed poorly in the third pre season game vs. Ravens with Flacco completing passes long and short effortlessly. Gabbert in 2.5 quarters accumulated a grand total of 3 points. MJD’s absence is huge.

The Jags hope to take advantage of Peyton Manning’s departure from the division and sneak into the post season crowd.  Doubtful.  Also rumored to be the next Los Angeles NFL franchise, the team has committed to the NFL to play season games for the next four years in London. HELLO???

The Bucs have a daunting out of conference schedule including the Giants, Iggles and Falcons. Miami always has the Jets, Pats and Bills in division, but gets a slightly easier out of division schedule— still facing the  49rs and Texans.

The first round draft picks of all three Florida NFL teams must produce early and often for any of the teams to rise above 500.  Dolphins QB Tannehill has a rifle and is an immediate locker room favorite. He appears cool and calm in the pocket and knows OC Mike Sherman’s (Texas A&M) playbook backwards and forwards. His Marinoesque pocket savvy and quick release may help make up for the astonishing lack of talent as 85 and Brandon Marshall are gone. Reggie Bush had an excellent 2011. Whether or not Philbin and Sherman capitalize on his considerable talent remains to be seen. The strong OL is a major plus. If Bush goes down, there’s little else in the running game.

The Dolphin defense and special teams were above average last year but the d appears to be floundering in the exhibition season.

 Tampa rookie Doug Martin should fit well with Schiano’s bull- in- a- china- shop running game; Saban schooled safety Mark Barron will shore up the weak Bucs D backfield.  QB Freeman has a year under his belt and has a bit more fire power than last year with Vincent Jackson at WR in from the Chargers. Rookie Lavont David is expected to help greatly improve the D line. Schiano is going the draft route to rebuild. He knows talent and is considered an excellent game day coach.

With all three teams hunting and pecking through their nebulous talent bases, there’s diminished optimism among the three fan bases. To say the least all three metro areas are first and foremost NFL football towns. The slings and arrows of the Dolphins, Jags and Buc’s DOMINATE local airwaves and ink. Talk show hosts are fending callers venom daily.

Sports talk radio in the northern part of the state has developed more positive chatter about the Gators and Noles while the southern tier Dolphins fans remain passionate and tepidly optimistic. New uberowner Steven Ross inherited a weakening fan and season ticket base and has done little to bolster either.  Miami is and always has been a Dolphins town but with the Lebron’s sneaking up fast in fan passion the once sacrosanct Dolphin brand is tarnished.

Ross’s marketing approach seems to center on attracting celebs like Gloria Estefan, JLo, Marc Anthony, Serena and Venus Williams who are trotted out on a red carpet prior to each home game. Whatever Ross’s reasoning this charade has turned off the (Shula era) faithful. But, with little else to sell perhaps he and his brain trust are looking to separate the current product from the glory of the past. If that is the goal, it is working. 

Our Predictions: Bucs 5-11, Jags 6-10, Fins 5-11

BETTING ON BARREL RACING IN FLORIDA?

First time we ever saw barrel racing was in the 60’s at the PIMA County Fair (Arizona) in the desert west of the Tucson city limits.  Several dozen talented, young cow girls atop steeds of considerable agility traversed the barrels from front to back and back to front til one remained clearly the best.  Certainly today’s rodeo fans around the country have enjoyed similar competitions as prelims to the calf roping and bull riding. In fact barrel racing is gaining in popularity and now is considered at some rodeos a main event.

However, NOT ONCE watching barrel racing did it REMOTELY occur that it in the year 2012 it is the center piece for creating a racino.   Sure, there might be a casual wager between cowboys or fans to keep the interest level up. But, that’s not what’s going on in the boondocks of the Sunshine State.  Here’s the deal:

Tiny Gretna,Florida (population 1700), is located in Gadsden County in the Panhandle.  The nearest megalopolis is Quincy (the county seat), and then Bainbridge, Georgia. Gadsden is a traditional democratic stronghold in the long skinny panhandle area that goes bright red since the mid 1960’s.

Gretna is located just a hop skip and jump off  coast to coast interstate 10 at the point in the state where motorists cannot imagine that Florida continues  on much further (it does). It centers the dullest, most boring section of I-10 with continuous forests of sphagnum moss covered oak and pine trees:  no scenery and straight as an arrow. The three hour drive from Bowdenville to Pensacola is a snoozer.  Greater Gretna touches but does not intrude into the Central Time Zone.

By way of background, five years ago a pie in the sky initiative by a private concern (supposedly in tandem with the Miami Dade County Commission and Airport Authority) tried to place slot machines in the airport. Considered mostly folly, it was declared ultimately totally illegal by the State. It as a gargantuan manipulation of the constitutional amendment allowing slots in the Miami area race tracks and frontons.

Shortly thereafter wire services around the state erupted with a story about tiny Gretna, Florida housing a racino in its midst with Barrel racing its center piece.  Of course, since the State Constitution mandates slot machines were only legal in the Miami Dade/Broward County race tracks the chances of Gretna being a bonafide gaming destination was considered totally absurd.  Or was it?

The nearest pari-mutuel facility to Gretna is the dog track in Monticello near Tallahassee, or Panama City. NOTHING IN BETWEEN.

In a state where telemarketers continue to sell underwater lots in the Everglades, and arcades in strip malls feature  “internet” look alike slot machines that pay out in “merchandise”,   the prevailing philosophy “shoot it up the flagpole” continues to produce multiple overnight millionaires.  Scam artists are so numerous that white collar criminals like Scott Rothstein and Bernie Madoff and Nevin Shapiro are revered by lesser operatives who stoop to fleecing  friends, enemies, even relatives.

In that climate little Gretna proudly announced that it would endorse the building, staffing  and operating  a barrel racing arena using quarter horses in competition as a prelim (excuse) to open a full blown poker room and subsequent casino complex.

Six years ago when the Florida  legislature authorized the marriage between horses,dogs,cestas and Wheel of Fortune machines much of the legal language was not specific (in fact ambiguous)  as lobbyists played upon the income from slots to bolster the disastrous education budget of Florida, and social programs to boot. A panacea.  Found money…..

Well, some bright entrepreneurs reasoned that there’s really no difference between Gulfstream Park’s thoroughbred  oval, Hollywood Dog Track greyhound marathon course, the Miami Jai Alai fronton and Hialeah park’s quarter horse sprints  and competitive barrel racing (17 seconds and a cloud of dust).  The State was clueless. All of the various factions got to arguing with one another while the powers that be in Gretna plowed ahead.

Palm Beach County which was excluded from the law (but a mecca for simulcast and greyhound wagering and poker) started legal suits against the state. Aside from the Disney corridor around Orlando, a variety of factions around the peninsula began sniffing around the viability of casinos or racinos.

Here’s a coinkidink, the “private” concern in the Gretna promotion involves one David Romanik who was the instigator of the failed attempt to get the slot machines into the Miami airport, and subsequently to place a slot parlor in the trendy western suburb, Weston. He was also a past CEO of Gulfstream Park and a savvy lawyer about all things gaming in Florida. In Gretna he had yet another interested partner: The Creek Indians.

The Creek tribe owns and operates successful casinos in Alabama and their historical tribal territory, which, depending upon who you ask extends into the south Georgia/West Florida marketplace.  With Georgia being a state with NO pari-mutuel or casino gaming there’s a vast untapped mass of pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars awaiting a convenient gambling destination.

The hue  and cry against Gretna’s new facility has been swift and deafening:  ranging from the National Barrel Horse Racing Association to the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association to thoroughbred and quarter horse breeders to the usual religious and social entities that automatically dismiss gambling of any kind. All are adamantly opposed. All vocal.

However, definitions of what constitutes a bonafide “race”  in the State of Florida are cloudy at best and with no strong governing body, the door swung wide open for the little town that could. Even the weak, out of step governor looked the other way and kicked the can down to regulatory officials in departments varying from state to agriculture.

On a fairly frequent basis, a couple dozen people, 8 or so horses and riders gather at the Creek Entertainment Gretna facility, which incidentally already houses a fully operational poker room—- as owners campaign to add slots into the mix. The PCI (Poarch Band of the Creek Indians along with Mr. Romanik and his partner and uber lobbyist Marc Dunbar) is building the race track facility and casino, holding job fairs, and generally marching on.  PCI has gone so far as to send a breakage check to the Florida Quarter horse Racing Association with which it has no relationship. The check was returned immediately.

In January 2012  a referendum in Gadsden County was held to determine if the fine citizens of that (rural) county would allow slots/barrel racing etc. in their midst. It passed. This vote, the very essence of which was illegal  by constitutional statute sent all manner of ripples through the industry and government.  State Attorney General Bond and state regulators proclaimed it illegal and horse enthusiasts across the state called it nothing more than a GET RICH QUICK scheme.

All that being said, the orchestration of going from NOTHING to a possible major casino player in two years is breathtaking.  Mssrs. Romanik and Dunbar were able to get the biggest impediment to their scheme capsized by gaining the Governor’s ear and having the recalcitrant chief of the Pari-Mutuel division, Milt Champion, fired before the referendum was in place. From that point forward they railroaded, cajoled, sidestepped, clouded just about every aspect of the issue and, bang zoom, the poker take for the month of April was 232,019.099.

There is no surprise to those of us who’ve inhabited this state of slings and arrows over the years that such a scheme would not only be successful but leave the overall impression that it’s a good thing for the masses (and city, county, state budgets, jobs, equestrian industry bolster etc).  There is also no surprise that a half dozen similar schemes around the state are already in the prep stage and, depending upon how long it takes the legislature and officials to capitulate, should be up and going within a few years.

Thank you Scott and Bernie and all your many, many predecessors for making Florida the land of opportunity (and sunshine).

 

TOP 20 WAYS YOU KNOW IT’S SUMMER IN FLORIDA

 

  1. THE AC’S BEEN ON FOR A MONTH NOW. 8 MORE TO GO
  2. STADIUM ROOF’S BEEN CLOSED FOR A MONTH NOW. 7 MORE TO GO
  3. UM SPRING FOOTBALL GAME IN HIALEAH. GO FIGURE.
  4. FLORIDA PANTHERS PLAYERS  RESERVED TEE TIMES AT TURNBERRY DAILY THRU SEPTEMBER.
  5. LEBRON JAMES AND DWAYNE WADE ARE TOO BUSY FOR DINNER AT PRIME 112 OR THE FORGE.
  6. CAMERON WAKE AND REGGIE BUSH ARE  NOT
  7. THE BLUE MONSTER AT DORAL IS NOW PILES OF  MOVING DIRT PER THE DONALD.
  8. SPORTS TALK RADIO FOCUSED ON THE DRAFT (NFL 2016…).
  9. OZZIE GUILLEN IS PERMANENTLY BARRED FROM DOMINOES PARK ON CALLE OCHO IN LITTLE HAVANA.
  10. STAN VAN GUNDY AND  ERIC SPOLESTRA BEING COURTED BY TEAM  ITALY  FOR COACHING THE  OLYMPICS (2016)
  11. GREG SCHIANO BY FORCE OF HABIT  DROVE TO PAHOKEE TO PITCH A HIGH SCHOOL QB.  UNFORTUNATELY  HE’S NOT THE COACH AT  RUTGERS. ON THE OTHER HAND, MIGHT WORK FOR THE BUCS.
  12. SETH GREENBERG SPOTTED AT THE UM HANGOUT THE  BIG CHEESE LUNCHING WITH HURRICANE HOOPS COACH JIM LARANAGA WEARING ST.JOHNS HOOPS TEE SHIRT. COINKIDINK?
  13. DONALD TRUMP TALKING TO ROMERO BRITO ABOUT DESIGNING THE HEADBOARDS AT HIS NEW DORAL HOTEL. WHERE IS TIMOTHY LEARY WHEN U NEED HIM?
  14. JIM COURIER SEEN PRACTICING WITH GABRIELLA SABATINI ON FISHER ISLAND. NOBODY CARES.
  15. DON SHULA OPENED ANOTHER  STEAK HOUSE.  NO MENTION OF THE CURRENT DOLPHINS.  DÉCOR ALL ’72 UNBEATENS

16.  ORANGE BOWL OFFICIALS DESPERATELY HOPING CRIMSON TIDE WIN THE SEC AND PLAY IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME JAN ‘13 vs. BOISE STATE

17.NICK  SABAN WOULD RATHER BE IN TUSCALOOSA

18.  THE FAMED TRAINERS AND JOCKS DEPARTED GP (GULFSTREAM) FOR BEL(BELMONT), STA(SARATOGA), (DLM) DELMAR ETC. NOTHING LIKE SUMMER CRC (CALDER RACE COURSE) CHALK AND “NO TURF RACING TODAY”

19.JOE PHILBIN IS BEGGING JEFF IRELAND TO TRADE FOR BERNIE KOSAR, DON STROCK, EVEN CLEO LEMON

20.THE SAINT LUCIE METS LEAD THE FLORIDA A BALL LEAGUE (BOTH IN WINS AND RAIN OUTS)

MIAMI MARLINS IN THE BIG SHOW

SPACE SHIP? OR STATE OF THE ART?

It’s been quite some time, actually 8 years, since the Marlins were even a footnote on the Major League Baseball landscape.  With bunches of awful to mediocre ball clubs and no fan base,  the club, now in its third ownership in the past  20 year history, could easily be overlooked if not forgotten.  Since the Marlins won its second World Series in 2003 vs. the New York Yankees, there’s been precious little newsworthy activity.

Well, that all changed in one two week period in early April.

First, the new MIAMI MARLINS debuted in their very own MARLINS STADIUM escaping the bonds of the Stadium Formerly Known as Joe Robbie (now known as Sun Life) and  the bad vibes of playing in the Miami Dolphins crib.  Second, armed with a retooled ball club featuring some top level performers and a good youth movement from their successful minor leagues, the Marlins hired manager Ozzie Guillen, fresh from a good (World Series) run in Chisox land.

The love affair with the new (whacky) manager came to a thud when Ozzie proclaimed he loved and respected Fidel Castro in Time Magazine on line.  Perhaps if he was managing the A’s or Mariners or Royals that comment would have disappeared into the baseball ether quickly and quietly. BUT Ozzie manages the MIAMI (read north Cuba) MARLINS. The comment offended 750,000 displaced Cubans in the magic city.

Primarily offended were the elder Cubans most of whom went through harrowing life threatening means to escape Fidel’s Cuba from 1959 through the 1960’s,  losing their homes and possessions and leaving behind close family and relatives who were castigated by the Castro regime.  There’s no denying that Cuban Americans are passionate in their hatred of the dictator.

Ozzie, who lived in Miami when he was the third base coach for the Florida Marlins before he went to Chicago,  most certainly was aware of this.  He also has been known to embrace Venezuelan (Ozzie is a native) strongman Hugo Chavez.  This adds fuel to the fire as Hugo and Fidel are best buds.  Consequence: an almost immediate dislike of the new manager by a large majority of potential Miami ticket buyers.  It remains to be seen how it plays out, but there are segments of the Miami-Dade county political machine that want him fired….a five day suspension was ordered by Marlins management.

Meanwhile the new Marlins stadium is quite the water cooler topic as more and more people get to sample it and react.  Here’s an initial list of the pros and cons.

Pro: A ballpark made for baseball and not football

Con: A spaceship looking structure in the heart of a residential neighborhood

Pro: Great sightlines and a Miami look incorporating art deco colors and design features

Con: Interior looks like it was conjured up by Dr.Seuss and Roy Lichtenstein

Pro: Movable roof eliminates the summer rain delays and humidity

Con: None. It was the whole point of building the 3 billion dollar tax payer funded stadium (aside from ownership getting 100% of the profits). Though the actual cost of designing and constructing the stadium is around 660 million, after the financing and bonds, the total cost to the taxpayers of Miami Dade County over the 40 year duration will be 3 billion dollars.

Pro: A variety of local food fare ranging from empanadas to lobster rolls

Con: The prices are Manhattanesque

Pro: The inner city location may provide a new energy to the surrounding area which could use it.

Con: The parking is essentially nil. However fans are parking in front yards of homeowners at absurd prices. So…there is a trickle down.

Pro: The mechanized home run sculpture in center field looks like something Timothy Leary and Salvador Dali dreamed up.

Con: The dimensions of the ball park including the outfield walls are gargantuan. The sculpture may have to be invoked for doubles and triples

Pro: The bobble head museum with 600 vintage bobbles on display is a quaint and unique feature for this ballpark

Con: None. People like bobbles.

Pro: The fish tank aquariums along the third and first base sides of home plate is a tropical touch and  unique feature.

Con: We won’t know if the glass is truly impenetrable til Ryan Howard fouls one off and we have Marlin bouillabaisse all over the infield.

Pro: The swimming pool in the outfield as part of the Clevelander Club (Miami Beach’s prominent outdoor bistro) is already very popular

Con: Could mean that Snooki, Chloe, Kim  and Mickey Rourke and their entourages will dominate the scene out there.

Pro: The opening day ceremonies in front of a national TV audience was the biggest send off for Miami sports since Shaq and Pat Riley led the parade of the world champion HEAT down Biscayne Boulevard.

Con: The general reaction to the Opening Day ceremonies was negative. The scantily  clad carnival girls escorting the ball players for introductions, the complete snafu with the video feed of the soldier in the middle east and his family at second base, the unhappy sight of a weak Muhammad Ali, and virtually NO mention of the two world series teams or the several Marlins in the Hall of Fame….led many to conclude that producer Emilio Estefan has lost his fastball. And he had over a year to produce a winner.

The local racino scene remains vigorous. Gulfstream Park has turned over the reins to Calder Race Course and Casino for summer racing.  Magic City Casino is now taking Calder simulcasting for the first time as the two competitors are now enjoying détente.  Miami Jai Alai and Casino has staged its first boxing card in the new configuration of that venerable fronton.  The Seminole’s Hard Rock casino has booked top talent for their theater for the summer including Joan Rivers, Il Divo and the Beachboys in May.

For the first three months of 2012 the Net slot Revenue was up a very healthy 17.3%. Thanks to unbelievably mild weather all winter,  our wonderful snowbirds (US and Canadian), European and South American tourists, football, golf, tennis and pro rasslin’ fans for kicking it up a notch. Ya’ll come back now!!!

 

 

 

MIAMI JAI ALAI JOINS SOUTH FLA RACINO MIX

From time to time we’ll feature some of the more renowned Florida pari-mutuels, racinos and gaming venues.  Since the landscape has changed markedly over the past 5 years, many of these companies have entirely redirected their identities….mainly toward slot machines and poker.

Though the laws that were enacted were based primarily on helping to fund education, create jobs, and strengthen an anemic pari-mutuel industry, the preponderance of  public perception  for all participants has centered around the slots, and the jackpots and the concerts and the give aways.  Newspaper stories about higher purses or better fields are few and far between.

 

In fact, as the racinos push for lessening the taxes on the slots, they also push to eliminate the existing law that the horses/greyhounds/jai alai must continue to operate their races/games.  With the exception of Dania Jai Alai every South Florida pari-mutuel is effectively a neighborhood slot parlor.  Yes, the horsemen and dog men who were promised significant upgrades in purses and facilities have seen SLIGHT upticks. But, nothing consequential.  The greyhound and jai alai entries and results, once a staple of the daily sports sections, are no longer.

The latest entry in the racino derby is the venerable MIAMI JAI ALAI owned by Florida Gaming. The fronton’s storied past dates back to the introduction of the game in South Florida in 1926. Through its top players becoming household names like Joey, Churruca,  Michelena, Zulaica, Asis to the near death knell player strikes in 1968 and 88 to the modern day casino/fronton mix. Miami Jai Alai has always been the nation’s and Florida’s 400 pound gorilla.

With its location near the Miami International Airport and being minutes from downtown there will be plenty of opportunity to beckon players. Ultimately, though, the profitability of Miami Jai Alai as a racino will depend a great deal on repeat players from nearby Miami Springs, Hialeah and the western suburbs of the city.

From the outside, the fronton hasn’t changed much. The spires are still visible for quite some distance. The “casino” entrance looks like an afterthought with a canvas banner draped across a side entrance on the aged fronton building.  What used to be sufficient parking is no longer. The lot across the street from the entrance is dreary at best.

Once inside, the casino beckons with a nice, not fancy entry way adjacent to the jai alai court. The rows and rows and islands and islands of modern slot machines wind through the casino.   Part of the gaming floor encompasses the old Crystal Palace Poker Room which was opulent and huge. Now the poker parlor is tucked inside the rows of slots with a wall around the dozen tables. Mid afternoon there were four tables going, no waiting.

A preponderance of video lotto machines in the mix suggests that management is targeting the neighborhood Cuban population—which is fond of playing the “numbers.”

Though the overall ambiance inside Miami Jai Alai Casino is comfortable and relatively roomy, it’s nothing special. A workable racino footprint.

The food service is disappointing— a Cuban sandwich stand, empanadas, sub sandwiches and a soda machine. Seating was stark and very limited. Supervision was invisible.  The Cuban sandwich was the real deal. Perfect.

There appeared to be plenty of workers on the floor, and security personnel were inconspicuous.

On the Jai Alai court  the pelota was whizzing high off the wall being greeted and retrieved in balletic form by extraordinary athletes— from cesta to cesta much the same way it has since the old Basque country.  A very small group of fans were busy handicapping the upcoming matches.

In summary Miami Jai Alai “racino” is up and running. The management has spent significant money on the slot machines and infrastructure. The layout is a bit confusing at first but ultimately the gamers retire to their niche machines with little fanfare.

The facility is a slot parlor sharing space with the legendary fronton.  No doubt as management tweaks the product, and the marketing and events components are introduced, Miami Jai Alai will join the other pari-mutuels in South Florida as a viable neighborhood entertainment center.

Through the first 21 days of slot operations, Miami’s 1,035 machines have averaged $137.00 in drop. The payout average is a respectable 92.51%. As the locals and seasonal patrons become more familiar with the slot mix, expect the business to increase.

 

The big news (aside from the runaway freight train HEAT) is that Tiger Woods will play both the Honda and Doral Tournaments—making the tri county area golf fans ecstatic. The management at the Honda has printed more tickets, leased more parking lots, added more shuttles, and increased the concessions and security.   It’s the first time he’s played the tournament since 1993 when he was still amateur.  Doral, part of the World Golf Championship is a main stop on the Tiger Tour. But this year the organizers are expecting record crowds.