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Dog racing, jai alai peacefully coexist on local hookup

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Less than two weeks ago, Calder Race Course abruptly stopped beaming its races to nearby Hialeah, citing a dramatic drop in attendance and on-track handle.

"We were trying to find ways to increase the size of the pie, but the pie wasn't getting any bigger," Calder president Ken Dunn said. "We were just cannibalizing our slice."

But does that send a disturbing signal to intertrack wagering "experiments" within the Tampa Bay marketplace?

In April 1992, Derby Lane officials argued that beaming their greyhound races to Tampa Jai-Alai, a few miles away on Gandy Boulevard, would be deleterious to their on-track attendance and handle.

Derby Lane reversed direction a year later and has been sending its races to the fronton. Tampa Jai-Alai is averaging about $17,000 wagered on the dogs, and both outlets say attendance hasn't been affected. And agreeing to send its signal to the fronton has given Derby Lane access to other frontons.

"We couldn't get into other jai alai in the state when we were shutting Tampa out," Derby Lane general manager Vey Weaver said. "We've picked up both Fort Pierce and Ocala for Saturday nights and Sunday matinees."

But when the Tampa Greyhound Track's six-month live meet begins July 1, don't look for it to send its races to the fronton.

"At this point in time, we're not going to give them our signal," Tampa Greyhound Track general manager Mike Hater said. "It's too close to our other site (Derby Lane). I don't think that would benefit us as a host track."

Tampa Jai-Alai general manager Giles Ellis said he doesn't understand how Tampa Greyhound Track could refuse his request, but added that ITW has oversaturated an already crowded parimutuel market.

"We have four locations running dogs and five running horses," Ellis said. "In the past, the only thing going this time of year was us and the dogs at Sarasota."

That hasn't stopped him from trying to simulcast more.

"If the dogs are going to run it on both sides of me, I have to compete," Ellis said. "I have to offer the same products they're offering."

Weaver said he doesn't think anyone in the industry knows how much ITW is too much. It's a trial-and-error process. Weaver added that his track's signal will be picked up at Massachusetts' Wonderland Greyhound Park.

"The thinking now is to give everything you can and let the customers vote with their money," he said. "If you have something that's not performing, you drop it. It's just a free-market economy."

Exotic wager: Derby Lane will try to make tonight's 10th race wide open. That could make the Florida Super, a pick-four that features a co-mingled pool from 14 parimutuel outlets, a lucrative bet.

The first week the track was the host for the lottery-like wager, Derby Lane's 10th race was a Grade A, with the two prohibitive favorites both about 2-1. The total handle was $68,460. When the favorites finished first and third, winners were paid $186.20 for their $1 bet.

Last week, track officials made the 10th race tougher to handicap _ a Grade B with a tepid 3-1 shot as the favorite. The pool slipped to $53,943, but each winning ticket returned $1,000.80.

"If you have a strong favorite, people will bet more," Weaver explained. "When you make it harder, people don't have a favorite to hammer and the handle decreases, but the payoff goes up. That's what we're going to do try to make it so there's a higher payoff."

Up ahead: Eliminations begin Wednesday for Derby Lane's Derby and Consolation Derby. The 32-dog field will be pared to 16 next Saturday. The top eight compete in the $30,000-added Derby, while the others race in the $10,000-added Consolation Derby. Both are on closing night, June 30.