State Nixes Airport Slots
A bid by Miami International Airport to add on-site slot machines as a way of boosting revenue has been rejected by state regulators.
In a letter to airport officials last week, Joe Dillmore, interim director at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering, said the airport’s application fell short on at least three counts.
The airport has 21 days to appeal the ruling.
In June, Miami-Dade commissioners voted to seek a permit that would allow them to offer quarter horse racing and, by extension, slot machines, under a new part of the state’s gambling laws. Airport officials are less interested in the racing portion of the deal, looking instead to possibly lease out the racing activities to an existing South Florida thoroughbred track.
The department’s rejection of the application cited the plan’s failure to comply with a handful of requirements.
First, the application calls for using about 10 acres of the airport’s 3,300 acre footprint while state law requires that all a facility’s property be used for gaming purposes.
State law also would require construction to start within a year, and that wouldn’t be the case under the airport’s application. The law also forbids government entities from applying for permits, which must instead be submitted on behalf of a specified person, Dillmore ruled. The agency also rejected a similar request from Ocala Breeders Sales Co.
The agency, however, approved an application from St. John’s Racing for a northeast Florida facility, despite the fact that the track has not run live races in more than 10 years.
That seeming discrepancy drew criticism from Marc Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist who has been representing the airport.
“Something other than pari-mutuel law and past agency practices appear to have motivated this decision,'' said Dunbar, a lawyer at Pennington Law Firm. `”There is a level of arbitrariness and inconsistency in the handling of this application.''
County commissioners were hoping to get as much as $417 million in additional annual revenue. Annual operating costs at the airport, which include debt services, are expected to more than double from the $500 million a year now spent as the airport performs planned construction projects.
After commissioners voted in June to seek the permit, nearby track owners came out in opposition, saying the new venue would add yet another competitor to the already cut-throat gambling market already battling tribal casinos for customers.
Isadore Havenick, vice president at Flagler Dog Track-Magic City Casinos, applauded the state’s decision another venue would hurt everybody else.
“(Flagler) is located a mile from the airport, Miami Jai Alai is across the street,” Havenick said. “It would have been a detriment to all four Dade County tracks.”
Meanwhile, Florida officials continue talks with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the tribe’s quest to add high stakes slot machines, blackjack and other banked card games to its casinos.
Repeated attempts to craft a deal acceptable to the tribe, the governor and Florida lawmakers have been unsuccessful.