ST. PETERSBURG — When parimutuel facilities open their turnstiles, a full house is always hard to beat.
Poker remains a vital supplement to Derby Lane, Tampa Bay Downs and Tampa Greyhound Track, the area's wagering sites. For the sixth consecutive fiscal year, poker continued its great growth and parimutuel wagering waned in Florida.
The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering reported in the 2011 fiscal year, which ended June 30, poker receipts surged 19.4 percent from the previous year to an all-time high of $125.1 million while money wagered on greyhounds, thoroughbreds, standardbreds, quarter horses and jai alai fell 7.7 percent, to $883.4 million.
Both figures kept recent trends intact. Since the 2006 fiscal year, parimutuel wagering is down 41.7 percent from more than $1.5 billion. Heading the declines are greyhounds at 44.6 percent and thoroughbreds at 37.3 percent. But poker has skyrocketed 182 percent from $44.4 million.
In the 2011 fiscal year, Derby Lane, the greyhound track in St. Petersburg, had total handle of $27,859,841, down 4.2 percent from the previous year. Its poker room receipts increased 17.5 percent, to $8,565,706. Derby Lane ranked fifth among 23 poker rooms in the state.
"The changes in hours and (state) legislation, and our daily and large promotions, have positively impacted our (poker) business over the past year and through this year," Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said. "The legislation changes in regards to poker play in Florida removed any kind of wagering limits to live and tournament play. Players have the opportunity to wager and play any stakes (or) limits they choose."
The Downs, Oldsmar's thoroughbred oval, had a standout season with increases in both areas. Total handle was up 2.6 percent, to $93,688,759, and the card room gained 18.7 percent, to $5,012,664. Of the state's four thoroughbred sites, the Downs was the only one with a gain in parimutuel wagering.
Tampa Greyhound, which no longer runs live greyhound races and holds its meet at Derby Lane, dropped 7.9 percent in total handle, to $24,707,062. Its poker room receipts were flat at $2,272,062.
REVISED DATES: The Downs has moved opening day for its 2011-12 meet to Dec. 3, coinciding with the season debut of Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. The Downs originally applied to begin its 92-day meet Dec. 10. Closing day for Oldsmar's 86th season remains May 6. This is the first December opening for Gulfstream Park. Calder Race Course, a Miami Gardens track, also amended its dates and concludes its 2011 program Dec. 2. Previously, Calder ran its fall meet into January.