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Ocala management fails, OBS takes over



Second Chance folds, Ocala/Gainesville Poker antes up
Orange Lake card room reverts to OBS ownership; Oxford Downs takes off in south Marion County.


By Carlos E. Medina / Correspondent
Posted Apr 18, 2017
The state of gaming in Florida and Marion County continues to operate under a cloud of uncertainty thanks to dueling gambling bills recently passed by the Florida Legislature and a shakeup in control of the area’s jai alai fronton.

Years of failed attempts to pass a comprehensive gaming bill by the Legislature in Tallahassee has culminated with bills so diametrically opposed that some doubt any compromise is possible this year. According to the News Service of Florida, leaders from the House and Senate met Monday to “lay the groundwork” for negotiations.

Closer to home, the expansion of gaming choices claimed Second Chance Jai Alai, the former operator of Ocala Poker & Jai Alai in Orange Lake. The owner of the property, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., filed a motion for default against Second Chance after they missed months of rent and other payments, according to court records filed in Fifth Judicial Circuit Court in Marion County.

On March 27, the court issued a final judgment against Second Chance for more than $441,000, including eight months of unpaid rent (totaling more than $192,000), more than $58,000 in unpaid real estate taxes, and nearly $190,000 in jai alai prize money and state taxes and licenses not paid by Second Chance.

The judgment, signed by Circuit Judge Lisa Herndon, does not include attorney’s fees for OBS’ attorney Dock Blanchard.

In the early 2000s, the two sides were in a high-stakes face-off for control of the facility. They worked out a settlement just days before trial. The details of the deal were kept confidential but left Second Chance to operate the facility.

In 2008, the operation added a card room and cut the annual jai alai games — which gave them the right to offer poker — until the performances were down to two non-professional jai alai players behind a curtain.

OBS took over management of the facility in February and rebranded it Ocala/Gainesville Poker.

“We’re hoping to keep it a viable entity. Business has actually picked up. We think that it certainly has potential,” said Tom Ventura, OBS president.

Ventura said the operation stayed open during regular hours in the transition and the company is evaluating whether to seek another operator or run the facility themselves.

“At the moment, I think everything is wide open. We want to keep things moving forward while we get the lay of the land,” he said.

Second Chance’s struggles started nearly simultaneously with the opening of the Oxford Downs Poker Room in south Marion near The Villages last June.

In July 2015, Ocala Poker & Jai Alai took in nearly $300,000 in wagers. A year later, that figure was down to less than $173,000, a more than 42 percent drop in wagers, according to reports from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Meanwhile, Oxford Downs reported more than $298,000 in wagering in July 2016, its second full month of operation. Ocala Poker dropped to its lowest level of the current fiscal year in December, at just under $119,000 in gross receipts. Oxford hit its highest level in January, when it raked in more than $320,000.

Ocala Poker rebounded in February and posted more than $162,000 in gross receipts. Ventura said March was also up, but the state had not released those figures as of press time.

Representatives of Second Chance were not immediately available for comment. Oxford Downs management was also unavailable for comment.

***

The emergence of Oxford Downs as a gaming venue featuring quarter horse racing in Marion County in April 2014 was met with contempt by some because of their reliance on what was classified as dubious racing in order to operate the card room.

Currently, state law mandates that all pari-mutuel facilities can operate card rooms as long as they meet the minimum requirements for horse racing, greyhound racing or jai alai performance. Horse racing is further broken down into thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness racing.

Quarter horse racing was non-existent in Florida until a provision in the law allowed pari-mutuel operators to open card rooms as a way to supplement their business. The long-forgotten quarter horse option was exploited by several in the state to offer poker, mostly to more rural areas of the state not covered by other pari-mutuel operators.

Hialeah Park, a historic thoroughbred racing venue, reopened in 2009 as a quarter horse track. That was followed in 2011 by Gretna Racing in north Florida’s Gadsden County, Oxford and Hamilton Downs, located in Jasper, in 2014.

Gretna, Hamilton and Oxford are accused by some in the state’s horsemen’s community, including the Ocala-based Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, of holding “sham” racing in order to operate card rooms. The detractors contend that races at the three rural tracks are not competitive and use horses and riders lacking experience and skill.

The track owners argue they are complying with state laws. Numerous lawsuits from both sides have been filed.


Ocala Star Banner article

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