By Nick Sortal, Staff Writer
November 7, 2011
A lawyer for developer Ron Bergeron wants to bring jai-alai – and maybe slots and poker – to Weston.
David Romanik filed a 42-page application with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on Friday, listing Bergeron as the majority owner. It also included a description of where a fronton would be built: on 65 acres near U.S. 27 in Weston.
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“I happen to think the Weston market is probably the last untapped market for gambling, at least in Broward,” Romanik said. “So it’s worth a shot.”
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Weston, a city of 65,000 that touches the Everglades, is Broward County’s westernmost city. The four pari-mutuels in Broward County are all east of U.S. 441/State Road 7, and six of the county’s seven pari-mutuels and casinos are east of Florida’s Turnpike.
The number of jai-alai frontons nationwide has dwindled from 14 to six, and the only fronton in Broward County often draws fewer than 100 patrons. But with gambling expansion proposals hitting the state Legislature this spring, Romanik said it’s simply good business to apply for a permit.
“There are very few permits available in the state of Florida,” he said. “And I believe they will become very valuable.”
The Romanik application, along with one by a Miami-Dade dog track and a recent attempt to bring slots west of Tallahassee through the state’s approval of barrel racing in Gretna, frustrate state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. She is co-sponsoring a bill that she says would better regulate gambling while also bringing in up to three destination casinos to South Florida.
“Gambling continues to grow as we stick our head in the sand,” she said Monday at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce forum.
Romanik’s application mirrors maneuvering last week by Magic Casino in Miami, which acquired a permit to set up a jai-alai fronton and possibly poker and slots at a site of its choice in Miami-Dade County.
Magic City applied after its attorney, John Lockwood, stumbled upon a 1980 legislative staff analysis, Lockwood said. The analysis said the state’s pari-mutuel law included a provision allowing the facility that had the lowest annual handle (total amount bet) in counties with at least five total permits for horse racing, dog racing and jai-alai to seek an additional summer jai-alai permit.
After the most recent handle figures were submitted, the state Division of Parimutuel Wagering first offered the permit to Hialeah Park, which had the lowest handle in Miami-Dade. (The track has offered quarterhorse racing – which attracts few bettors — to meet necessary specifications to open up slots.) After Hialeah declined, Lockwood applied for the permit in the name of Magic City, which runs a dog track.
Pari-mutuels didn’t offer slots and poker back in 1980, but Magic City officials say they are confident they can set up a poker room without challenge because every pari-mutuel in the state can do so. They said they are not interested in offering slots, but a recent ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeals that allows the state to grant a slot license to Hialeah could be extrapolated into the permit being good for slots, too.
Romanik cites the Magic City case in his application, although it doesn’t address slots or poker.
“We expect similar applications to be treated similarly,” Romanik said.
The application lists Bergeron as a 90-percent shareholder, with Romanik owning the other 10 percent of the applicant, “Everglades Jai-Alai Inc.”
Bergeron, an engineering contractor, is regarded as one of the more powerful men in Broward County. The Bergeron Rodeo Grounds, the Bergeron Industrial Park and other sites are named after the conservationist, who likes to go by the nickname “Alligator Ron.” He could not be reached Monday.
“He’d ideally like to have horse racing out there because that’d be more in line with what he does,” Romanik said.
The application lists the address as the Green Glades Ranch Property, 65 acres based at the address 21111 SW 16th St., Weston. That’s near U.S. 27.
Weston City Manager John Flint said he did not know of the application until he was asked about it.
“The city will review the application to the state to determine if the requested use is in conformance with the city’s land development code,” he said.
The state has 30 days to determine whether the application is complete. Once it has a complete application, it has 90 days to approve it.