Less than one month since a bill that would have paved the way for three destination casino resorts in South Florida died in Tallahasee, the owner of Hialeah Park is tweaking his plan to introduce slot machines and card games at the storied race track. John Brunetti Sr., chairman of Hialeah Park, tells the Sun-Sentinel he is putting the construction of a new casino at the 220-acre site on hold, but hopes to open a 30-table poker room inside the existing grandstand by April and put in 900 slot machines later this year or early 2013.
In addition, the Daily Racing Forum reports that Hialeah Park has applied to get 22 Thoroughbred racing dates in April and May of next year, which could once again put it at odds with competitors, Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course. In early February, New Times wrote a feature story on Hialeah Park's comeback from near extinction.
In the early 1990s, Brunetti battled Calder and Gulfstream for the premium winter and spring racing dates and ended up losing. In 2001, Hialeah Park held its last thoroughbred race and a year later lost its permit.
The track sat dormant until 2009, when Brunetti reopened the track for quarter horse racing. He also won permission from the state legislature to build a casino.
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According to the Sun-Sentinel, Brunetti put the expansion on hold until the state legislature approves the destination casinos, which would allow parimutuels like Hialeah Park to only pay the state 10 percent of its revenues instead of the current 35 percent that Gulfstream, Calder and Magic City Casino pay the state.
Brunetti says that would allow him to build a much larger casino, but later. In the meantime, he says, it makes more sense to add poker and slots to the racetrack as it is.
"If we make a building expansion, it will be much larger, and later," he said. "Why not use a building that's already there?"