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BREAKING NEWS: Dania closing for a YEAR

Posted on August 16, 2014 at 11:14:42 PM by Bennett

Just saw this on my iPad where I have the Sun-Sentinel app. It isn't even on the regular Sun-Sentinel website yet. At the end it says jai-alai will be played until Dec 30th....

By Nick Sortal, SouthFlorida.com
10:18 p.m.

The house doesn't always win after all.

Just six months after opening, Broward County's newest gambling option, Dania Casino and Jai-Alai, plans to close for at least a year, putting 300 people out of work.

With only a trickle of revenue, casino officials will lock the doors on slots and poker operations about Oct. 15.

Dania Casino officials say they'll reopen in a year, after spending $50 million to make their venue competitive with four other casinos in south Broward - all within a 15-minute drive and all far busier.

The casino's attorney, John Lockwood, said he understands why the public might be skeptical. But the four Argentine businessmen who own Dania Casino also own 27 casinos in their home country as well as a variety of other businesses - so "the revenue is not the reason for interrupting the operation," Lockwood said.

Investors plan to spend the $50 million on bars, restaurants and an expanded slots floor that would make them more competitive in South Florida, Lockwood said. So far, they have spent only $15 million.

"We just can't do a full construction while it's still open to the general public," Lockwood said. "It's more about speeding up our own investment in the project and delivering a finished product six to eight months ahead of previous plans."

Dania Casino first offered slots Feb. 20, and revenues fell drastically below expectations almost from the start.

The casino, one of the worst-performing in Florida, takes in about $1 million per month via slots, a fraction of the play seen at the nearby Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Seminole Classic Casino, both in Hollywood.

Dania was also far short of Mardi Gras Casino and Gulfstream Park, both of which average about $4 million monthly in Hallandale Beach. Dania Casino has 543 machines, Mardi Gras has 990, and Gulfstream has 874.

Dania Casino is averaging $65 per day on each of the machines, Gulfstream $150 and Mardi Gras $139. The average at Florida's eight racinos for the fiscal year ending June 30 was $176 per machine.

Amy Baker, the state's chief economist, said last month that she was concerned about Dania Casino's revenue numbers.

"That's the lowest we've ever seen, by far," Baker told other economists as they projected how much gambling tax revenue would be available for next year's state budget. "And usually casinos will start strong and taper off. They don't have much room to drop."

It was business as usual Friday night, and two employees, when asked about the news, said they weren't supposed to talk about it.

Customers also clearly had no idea. The slots machine activity was hit-and-miss, four poker tables had action and a band played to a small crowd near the second-floor bar. And as patrons left, some stopped to look at the miniature model of the projected Dania Casino of the future, with a hotel, marina and brightly lit building. A wall-sized rendering of what the owners project as the completed Dania property loomed above the model.

Dania Beach Mayor Walter Duke said he dislikes the job loss but trusts that the final product will be worth it.

"By and large, we view them as our partners, and we all have a stake in our city to do well," he said. "They're in the gaming industry and have that expertise."

Duke added, "So far, since acquiring the asset, they've done everything they've said they'd do."

Dania Casino has had several false starts in joining the three Broward County horse and dog tracks that offer slots. Previous owner Boyd Gaming delayed installing slot machines, citing a 50 percent state tax on slots that was later lowered to 35 percent. A group of local investors bought the property from Boyd in 2011 but then failed to come up with enough money to continue payments.

The Argentine investors took over in 2013 and opened about one-fourth of the property, calling it "Phase Zero." To open by February, they had cleared out the old poker and simulcast areas and slid in two floors of slot machines. Those slots will come out and the area the public frequents now will be used for entertainment, Lockwood said.

Casino officials on Friday gave employees a 60-day notice of layoffs. Lockwood said the expanded casino will employ about 500-600 people when it reopens.

The jai-alai games will be played in a compact schedule ending Dec. 30 to meet state pari-mutuel requirements for maintaining a gambling license.

Many of the jai-alai players are from another country and whether they stick around for a year and whether the casino can help them is still a question.


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