Business

Fontainebleau owner Jeff Soffer buying Mardi Gras casino in Hallandale Beach

Jeff Soffer, CEO of Turnberry Associates, said he is purchasing the Mardi Gras casino in Hallandale Beach. Soffer will form a new company to handle the casino, which will not be part of Turnberry’s portfolio.
Jeff Soffer, CEO of Turnberry Associates, said he is purchasing the Mardi Gras casino in Hallandale Beach. Soffer will form a new company to handle the casino, which will not be part of Turnberry’s portfolio. MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTO

Real-estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer is in talks to purchase the Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track in Hallandale Beach, adding the gambling destination to a family portfolio that includes the nearby Aventura Mall and Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Resort.

The Soffers have wanted to bring a casino to the Fontainebleau as part of a statewide tussle on Florida’s gambling laws, and acquiring the Mardi Gras Casino would give the Aventura-based family a piece of the state’s gaming industry.

It also raises the possibility of a future legal gambit to transfer a casino license from the Hallandale greyhound track to the far more lucrative hotel market of Miami Beach, but Soffer said Friday that such a move is both illegal and not in the cards.

“I just like the real estate,” Soffer said of the Mardi Gras property. “I like the business. I think it’s a good opportunity.”

Florida law hasn’t allowed the transfer of casino licenses to other properties, but there have been efforts to expand the rules to allow it. In 2014, Florida denied an effort by Gulfstream Park, also in Hallandale, to transfer a parimutuel permit to the Omni hotel complex, owned by Malaysian casino giant Genting. Genting failed to have a court overturn the decision.

Soffer emphasized that the deal involves him and not Turnberry, the family-operated real-estate empire that includes both the mall and the Fontainebleau. He said talks continue and that he expects the deal to close in the next couple of months. “We’re going to buy it.”

The news comes after nearly 40 years of operation by the current owners of the Mardi Gras Casino and Racetrack.

Hartman & Tyner, which has operated Hollywood Greyhound track since 1978, is working on the final elements of the purchase agreement with Soffer, said Dan Adkins, vice president of Mardi Gras, who has worked with the company since 1987.

The sale comes after much of the operation had been shuttered for months following damage from Hurricane Irma.

Soffer, who has long sought a permit to build a casino at his Miami Beach resort, will obtain the casino permit owned by Mardi Gras. Under state law, the gaming business cannot be moved to another location.

Hartman & Tyner is also selling its West Virginia greyhound track to a different buyer, Adkins said.

“I’m still employed by Hartman & Tyner at this point,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure what his future held. “It’s a landmark decision, and for a guy like me, who’s been around for so many years, it’s a little disheartening. Things change.”

Adkins, 60, has been the face of the Mardi Gras operations for decades. In 2004, he spearheaded the campaign to bring slot machines to South Florida. He said he looks forward to spending more time with his three grandchildren.

The prospects are limited for gambling expansion during the legislative session that began last week.

Next week, SB 840, introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, will get its first hearing. The measure would allow racetracks to operate casinos without live racing, reduce taxes on some slot machine operations and exempt fantasy sports games from regulation in Florida.

There is no legislation pending that would allow Soffer to move Mardi Gras’ gaming permit from Broward to Miami-Dade County.

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