It just wasn't in the cards.
While Florida parimutuel facilities continued to see a downward trend in wagering, poker rooms experienced a rare decline for the first time in at least nine years.
Final statistics reported by all permit holders for fiscal year 2014-15, which ended June 30, were released recently by the Florida Department of Parimutuel Wagering.
After nearly a decade of healthy growth, Florida's 23 card rooms flattened out in 2014-15 with total gross receipts of $135,888,902, a drop of 0.2 percent from the previous year. It was a contrast to the past eight seasons, when poker climbed every year en route to a 208.5 percent growth.
Tampa Greyhound Track, which was purchased on Feb. 13 for $9.5 million through TBDG Acquisition LLC — an affiliate of Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar — was the only Tampa Bay site to show an increase in card play with a 2.7 percent jump to $2,115,293. Poker play at the Downs was off 6.2 percent at $4,257,596. Derby Lane, the St. Petersburg greyhound oval, had a 2.3 percent poker drop-off at $8,576,312, but still ranked fifth among state associations behind leader Jacksonville Kennel Club with $15,665,056.
Total wagering on thoroughbreds, greyhounds, standardbreds, quarterhorses and jai-alai in the state fell to $779,354,489 for 2014-15, a decline of 8.3 percent. Since 2005-06, money wagered on those activities dropped 48.5 percent after the handle reached $1,514,758,761.
The Downs' 89th season was up in wagering on its product (a combined 4.8 percent on track and within the state), but the overall picture could have been much brighter. A four-month dispute over the rate structure of simulcast wagering kept the Downs brand out of many Mid-Atlantic markets. The issue was resolved in March, but it was the driving force behind the Downs' 31.1 percent drop in simulcast wagering of nearly $24-million. The Oldsmar oval finished with an 18.2 percent decline in total handle at $98,075,807. Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino in Hallandale Beach was first among thoroughbred tracks with total handle of $310,341,488.
Total money wagered at state thoroughbred tracks stood at $468,130,149, down 11.4 percent.
The greyhound industry didn't fall nearly as far with wagering at 13 associations reported at $248,807,964, a decline of only 1.1 percent. Derby Lane had a 3.2 percent dip, but remained second among state dog tracks in total handle at $23,173,532. Tampa Greyhound, which runs its six-month meet at Derby Lane, had a decrease of 3.4 at $20,310,871 to rank third. Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach led the way with $45,260,601.
DOGS: The first event in Derby Lane's 11-race stakes program is set with the $50,000 Fall Sprint on Sept. 19-Oct. 3. Four qualifying rounds precede the 550-yard final. First place pays $22,000.