The end may be near for horse racing meets at the Calder Race Course in Miami Springs after Florida’s District Court of Appeal voted to allow the facility to shut down its horse racing business.
Perhaps the most important part of a three-judge panel’s ruling is that Calder’s casino will be allowed to keep operating its slots business without horse racing at the site.
On Sept. 25, a three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and rejected arguments from thoroughbred breeders, enabling the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned site to switch horse racing for jai alai.
According to a report by paulickreport.com, Calder opened its casino following the 2004 passage of a Florida constitutional amendment that gave existing license holders in South Florida (Miami-Dade or Broward counties) the option to install slot machines.
At that time Calder was a fully functioning thoroughbred track. However, in the years since, the site’s horse racing activity has dwindled. Opponents to the track’s shift to jai alai claimed that the change in activity would invalidate its license. But in the ruling, the judges sided with Calder’s owners and found no basis for their complaint.
“Contrary to the appellants’ arguments, nothing in the plain language of (the section of law) requires a facility to continue the same form of pari-mutuel wagering activity that originally qualified it for a slot machine license; nor does this statute tie an ‘eligible facility’ to the same type of racing or gaming as it had when the constitutional amendment was approved,” the ruling said, according to the Miami Herald.
The decision will no doubt be a blow for Florida’s thoroughbred community, which is set to lose up to $8-million in revenue from the Calder Casino. That figure accounts for nearly 10% of all annual purses paid out in South Florida, according to reports.
Since May this year, Churchill Downs Inc. has offered wagering on jai alai at a new facility adjacent to the Calder casino. The growing popularity of the sport led them to apply to end their horse racing operations and tie their slots business to jai alai instead.
Betting on jai alai has been legal in Florida since 1935, and though its popularity isn’t as high as during its heyday many casino operators continue to be drawn to the sport. According to a report by the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, part of the sport’s appeal is its lower cost.
It is far cheaper to operate jai alai because it requires less space than a horse racing track. In addition, the move eliminates the costs of looking after animals and reduces the labor outlays associated with jockeys and other track employees.