GAMBLING

New Dania casino plans to close for a year, but regulators will have final say

 

After a rocky start, and a big bill for back taxes, the region’s newest casino will lay-off an estimated 300 people, if state regulators approve.

 
TV personality Susana Gimenez, joined by Cristobal Lopez, the new owner of the Dania Casino & Jai Alai, during the opening party ceremony in February at the casino, purchased by an investors group from Argentina.
TV personality Susana Gimenez, joined by Cristobal Lopez, the new owner of the Dania Casino & Jai Alai, during the opening party ceremony in February at the casino, purchased by an investors group from Argentina.
Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald Staff

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Six months after opening, Dania Casino & Jai Alai has announced that it will close for a year starting in October, putting an estimated 300 people out of work.

Company officials say that closing the brand-new casino is necessary to expedite the company’s $50 million in renovations needed to help it compete in the rigorous South Florida gaming market. But the move, announced late Friday, also comes after the company’s revenue performance was the worst in the region, and its owners were forced to write a check to the state for nearly $400,000 after it under-reported its taxes for three months because of an alleged software glitch.

“We are not shutting down because there are any money problems,” said John Lockwood, a Tallahassee-based lawyer for the company. “It’s about speeding up our investment in the property. This has nothing to do with the performance of the facility.”

Meanwhile, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering could have a say on whether the facility will be allowed to close at all.

The company needs the agency’s approval before it can alter its jai-alai schedule and the division is “still reviewing it,” said Tajiana Ancora-Brown, spokeswoman for the agency. State law requires that the facility perform a certain number of events to maintain its permit.

The Dania Beach casino has struggled to compete with its more established competitors since it opened in February. State records show that the company reported that the average revenue per machine was $12 in May, $30 in April and $50 in March, compared to the average revenue for its competitors during those months of between $192 per machine at Gulfstream Park Casino in March and $127 per machine at the Mardi Gras Casino in May.

In May, Lockward notified the state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that an internal investigation found that the company owed the state $386,831 in taxes because free games given to customers were calculated as revenue. They also revised their reported revenues per machine, bringing them closer to the competition but still significantly down: $74 in March, $57 in April and $61 in May, state records show.

Ancora-Brown said the agency first noticed the discrepancy in April and its investigators were considering an audit but backed off when the company reported the error in May and paid the taxes due.

Dania Casino & Jai Alai is the eighth and newest company to offer slot machine gaming in South Florida’s competitive gambling market. Florida voted in 2004 to allow slots at horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in Miami Dade and Broward counties, but the company’s previous owner, Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas, never invested in slot machines.

Boyd sold its share of Dania Jai Alai for $65.5 million in 2013 to a group of Argentine investors headed by millionaire Argentine businessman Cristobal Lopez. The group, Ondiss Corp., owns nearly 30 casinos in Argentina.

The new investors installed 543 slot machines on two floors of the Dania Beach property, with plans to renovate the rest of the facility in phases.

Lockwood said Dania Entertainment Center plans to reopen next November or December with plans to hire between 500 to 600 employees.

Broward County Career Search Board will help the displaced workers find replacement work and job training, the Department of Economic Opportunity said Monday.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas.

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