Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti is working with Florida City officials to open a new poker room and jai-alai fronton by the end of the year.
Brunetti said the facility will be “an entertainment center,” with attractions for both adults and children, and will cater to those near the intersection of Florida’s Turnpike and U.S. 1.
“We have to figure out a way to get everyone from the Florida Keys to come,” he said. “That will be our big push.”
Brunetti, who bought 38 acres for $6.7 million late last year, received zoning approval earlier this month from the Florida City council. The city must still approve the plan for his site. Mayor Otis T. Wallace cautions there are many steps to go, but he said the city is eager to work with Brunetti.
“I’m excited about the prospects,” Wallace said. “It will have a whole spillover effect on other businesses and be a catalyst to the area.”
Florida City, with a population of 11,245 as of 2010, is the final stop for those traveling from Miami-Dade County on the turnpike to the Florida Keys. The closest card room to the area is about 35 miles north, up Krome Avenue at the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming.
As South Florida gambling has expanded, parimutuel permits have long been frozen in the state. Hialeah Park acquired state approval for an extra jai-alai license based on a 1980 law that surfaced in 2011. The law allows a summer permit to be awarded to the lowest-performing parimutuel in a county with at least five existing permits. Magic City Casino officials, who also have an extra permit, had mentioned opening up in Florida City, but instead bought one-fourth of Dania Jai-Alai in 2014 and focused on that, opening a slot facility there earlier this month.
After running jai-alai, Brunetti could then open a poker room, which is legal at all parimutuel facilities. Slots aren’t in play because only facilities that are part of a 2004 constitutional amendment or allowed by the Florida Legislature are eligible, and Brunetti has not sought permission.
But Wallace notes that the Legislature is discussing “decoupling” — the idea that horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons can offer slots or poker without running a parimutuel. So the final plan for the facility is still in flux.
“We see it as a place that those traveling to and from the Keys might stop at,” he said. “And we think Mr. Brunetti has the capacity to make it an attractive place to visit.”
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