The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs are an increasingly rare success story in the sport of horse racing but elsewhere there is no shortage of problems. Florida is no exception and although the Sunshine State has had a long history of thoroughbred racing it has become threatened by poor management, changing consumer tastes and increased competition. Churchill Downs has made a deal with the management of Gulfstream Park to take over horse racing operations at Calder.
Churchill Downs owns Calder Race Course and the adjacent casino but they apparently have no future interest in managing the money losing facility. They’ve been in negotiations with The Stronach Group, owners of Gulfstream Park, to take over horse racing operations at the Miami Gardens track. A deal was consummated several weeks ago and has now been approved by Florida gaming regulators. Under the agreement Churchill Downs will lease and continue to operate the Calder Casino. Gulfstream Park will manage the horse racing product in a deal that extends through 2020.
For Florida racing and gaming enthusiasts there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that racing dates at Calder and Gulfstream will no longer overlap which is good not only for the sport but the quality of the racing product. The bad news–in something of a surprise Churchill Downs announced that the poker room at the Calder Casino will close. There has been no comment from Churchill Downs about the reasons for closing the poker room but it’s likely the same as many other casinos that have closed their poker rooms–a desire to ‘dumb down’ the gaming product with more high revenue slot machines.
There is additional bad news for some South Florida residents–the deal has resulted in a layoff of 246 workers from Calder. Churchill Downs says that Gulfstream has hired 50 former Calder employees and that they’ll be providing assistance to the remaining 196 workers. As is often the case in this type of transaction most of the relevant parties hailed it as being necessary for the good of Florida racing. Racing at Calder ended in late June and will resume in October with Gulfstream running the show.