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Derby Lane: Proposed gambling deal is a dud

People who earn a living at the Derby Lane greyhound track hoped the state's new gambling deal would toss them a bone.

Instead, they say, the struggling St. Petersburg track came away with just a few crumbs.

The Seminole Indian Tribe, owners of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, got to keep exclusive rights to blackjack and slot machines everywhere outside South Florida.

"They're getting everything they asked for,'' said Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Filipelli. "It's about not being able to compete with them.''

Florida jai alai frontons, and tracks, including Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar and Tampa Greyhound Track, won a few concessions in the agreement, which would require the Legislature's approval to go into effect.

Limits on betting in their poker rooms would be lifted. Also, they could install up to 300 gambling machines, based either on electronic bingo games or recorded horse races. In the so-called Class II games, players compete against each other instead of playing against the house.

But the machines specified in the deal are older and less sophisticated than the type the Seminoles already largely replaced in their casinos with Las Vegas style slots, said Filipelli. Gamblers "won't even be interested in them,'' she said.

Florida's parimutuels, including horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons, have suffered a long decline, with gamblers moving to flashier games. Parimutuels took in $1.2 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, compared to $2 billion two years earlier. Derby Lane collected $40.7 million last year, down 30 percent.

State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, said legislators will examine the agreement when they convene in the coming weeks.

"If this takes the parimutuels and puts them out of business, that's not fair,'' he said. "We (legislators) have some sticking points with it.''

Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384 or huettel@ sptimes.com.

Derby Lane: Proposed gambling deal is a dud 08/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 10:17am]
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