Calder, With Jai Alai, Can Stop Horse Racing and Keep Casino License, Florida Appeals Court Rules

Posted on: September 29, 2019, 05:10h. 

Last updated on: September 29, 2019, 09:51h.

A Florida appellate court has sided with Calder Casino, ruling last week that the Miami-area track can stop horse racing, offer jai alai instead, and continue to operate its casino.

Calder Casino celebrated the opening of its jai alai arena in May. Last week, a Florida court ruled the casino could use its jai alai pari-mutuel license to maintain its casino license. That would allow it to discontinue horse racing at the South Florida venue. (

The unanimous decision affirms answers the Division of Pari-Mutuel Racing gave Calder officials last year. The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. challenged the division’s response, sending the matter to the state court system.

A state constitutional amendment ratified 15 years ago gave pari-mutuel venues in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties the right to add slots. Calder is located in Miami Gardens, in Dade County.

Contrary to the appellants’ arguments, nothing… 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 judges’ opinion stated.

Calder opened its casino more than nine years ago.

Calder’s History

The first races at the track took place in 1971. Churchill Downs Inc. acquired the track, then known as Calder Race Course, 20 years ago.

In May 2014, Churchill Downs announced an agreement with The Stronach Group (TSG), which owned and operated Gulfstream Park, which is about nine miles east of Calder. Under terms of the deal, TSG agreed to lease the track from Churchill Downs and run for 40 days, the minimum number of dates Florida required in order to offer slots.

TSG then rebranded the Calder track as Gulfstream Park West, while Churchill kept the track’s original name for the casino. At the time, Churchill Downs officials said the move was necessary because of the small population of thoroughbreds racing in South Florida.

That lease agreement will expire next year. That would open the door for Calder officials to end racing after the 2020 meet.

After the lease took effect, Calder officials tore down its grandstand. Calder officials also tore down all stables that were not being used for the Gulfstream Park meet.

Calder received a state license to offer pari-mutuel betting on jai alai in February 2018. It opened its jai alai fronton four months ago.

The Gulfstream Park West meet will begin on Wednesday and run through Nov. 24.

What Happens Next

It remains to be seen whether the case will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. However, even if the FTBOA and Ocala seek an appeal, there’s no guarantee the state’s top court would consider it.

If Calder follows through and pulls the plug on racing, the question then becomes if Gulfstream would consider adding extra dates at its Hallandale Beach track to make up the lost dates, or if horsemen must look elsewhere to make up the lost revenue.

Not surprisingly, horse racing supporters are concerned about the future after the appellate court’s ruling.

“Florida continuing to make decisions positive for horse racing. Not,” tweeted Pat Cummings, executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation. “My friends, we need to WAKE UP.”

Cummings’ wake-up call isn’t just for racing supporters near South Beach.

“Pennsylvania…beware,” he added in a subsequent tweet. “The more sustainable racing can be on its own, the better. 90% of prize money from slots is not it…”