Nor is anyone placing any bets. Spectrum said Hamilton Jai-Alai’s total handle for fiscal year 2012 was two bucks.
The total annual handle for all six of the state’s jai-alai frontons has fallen 91 percent since 1990, 96 percent for live performances. Total paid attendance in 1990 reached 3.9 million. In 2012, jai-alai attendance fell to 9,068. Last year, the six operators lost $25.6 million in this insane pretense that jai-alai was still a viable entertainment in Florida.
Greyhound racing was only slightly less bleak, with the handle down 67 percent since 1990. “It is a dying sport,” Michael Glenn, general manager of the Palm Beach Kennel Club told Spectrum.
“We can see it by our live handle. The older folks are not being replaced,” said Jamie Shelton of Jacksonville Greyhound Racing told Spectrum. “There are just too many other things to do out there today. Watching a greyhound race is not at the top of most people’s agenda.”
To maintain the facade, Melbourne Greyhound track has proposed running two-dog races with the mutts picked from “a two-kennel roster under the same ownership.” Greyhound racing, Melbourne style, will become as competitive as professional wrestling.
At the state’s only harness track, Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano, it was not much more encouraging. Spectrum reported, “We toured the Pompano facility on May 20, 2013. Only the ground floor of the racetrack was open. The facility is in a state of disrepair.”
The report said Pompano plans to close the grandstand area this summer, “which will force patrons to watch live races from a row of seats set up outside the casino. That places spectators by the turn as horses approach the finish line, making it difficult from that angle for them to see who wins.”
Obviously, the management would just as soon race hamsters as hassle with horses.
The state’s three thoroughbred races tracks still offer an authentic product, although the handle for live races has fallen 54 percent since 1990. And Hialeah, running quarter horses, has a grand $842.9 million plan to bring the majestic old track back to glory. Owner John Brunetti promised Spectrum that “racing will be integrated into the complex so that it will never become an afterthought, which he believes is the case at too many Florida pari-mutuel facilities.”
That last bit from Brunetti was an understatement of mighty proportions in Florida where, instead of adopting a studied, comprehensive approach to gaming, instead of deciding what sort of gambling venues would be in the best interest of the state, pari-mutuel racing has been allowed to fester as a mere pretense.
The state pretends that anachronistic pari-mutuels operations aren’t inconvenient excuses for gambling conglomerates to run their poker rooms and slot machines.
Just as the state pretended, until this past session of the legislature, that Internet cafes and game rooms and maquinitas running out of storefront casinos were no different than children’s game arcades.
Just as the state pretended, right up until the moment that SunCruz Casino fleet magnate Gus Boulis was gunned down by mobsters in Fort Lauderdale, that there was nothing hinky about Florida’s gambling cruises to nowhere.
And now the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering pretends that the hankie drop is a worthy substitute for the sport of kings. While our state legislators pretend that Florida gaming is not a mendacious mess.