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Hialeah Park to Offer Slot Machines to its Patrons

After an eight year slumber, Hialeah came back to life on November 28th, 2009-attracting a big crowd of 26,874 eager to see horses race once again down on one of the most famous horse racing tracks in the world.

The crowd cheered at the 1:05 start time followed by another cheer when, once the 4th race had ended, Hialeah Park's well-known pink flamingo flew overhead the track en masse. Hialeah state Representative Esteban Bovo said that he never though that they would get to this point again.

Rep. Bovo, who is a former Hialeah Park employee, was instrumental in approving legislation in Tallahassee this year that restored the park's viability as racing facility. The main provision: permitting the racing track to add slot machines after two horse racing seasons. Bovo said that there has been an excited buzz in their community about the Hialeah opening.

Hialeah Park, which is considered as a National Historic Landmark, was visibly dilapidated a few months of ago. The years that the park has been close to the public had taken their toll as well as the hurricane damage inflicted on the property during its hiatus. Building crew worked 24/7 to bring Hialeah Park's clubhouse back to its former glory.

For the most part, those construction crews succeeded as the clubhouse charmed visitors with its Renaissance inspired architecture, its old light fixtures and its wall monuments honoring horse racing greats from the past.

The restoration of the park is still a work in progress, with other parts of the park, like the grandstand, off-limits to the public for now. Saturday's reopening included other attractions designed to attract individuals who are not hard-core horse racing fans.

A concert stage featuring salsa singer Willy Chirino had some visitors dancing as they walked back, while kids enjoy an assortment of bounce houses and other carnival rides. Hialeah park plans to offer additional concerts in the coming weeks and to keep the carnival kiddie rides as a weekend offering.

Hialeah Park's reopening allowed those with good memories of the track to soak in the memories. For George Weaver of Fort Lauderdale, Saturday's reopening was the first time he had set foot on the property since 1975.

Back then, Weaver would come in the morning to watch the horses train in the track. He would then grab a meal at the breakfast buffet and just enjoy the atmosphere. Weaver was happy with Hialeah Park's switch to the less glamorous quarter-horse racing.

The sprint-like horse races are shorter compared with their thoroughbred counterparts. When it comes to long-term appeal to customers, quarter horse races are also unproven.

Before Saturday, Florida had not hosted a quarter-horse race since 1991. Hialeah Park opted for a quarter-horse permit because it is easier to acquire compared to a thoroughbred horse racing permit.

What horse breeds will run at Hialeah Park is not the only uncertainty surrounding the horse racing track's comeback plans-making it appropriate that the winner of the first race on Saturday was named Definatly Maybe.

State approval for the slot machines could be delayed because the Seminole tribe of Florida has yet to agree to a final gambling compact with Florida. Under the current existing state law, Hialeah Park would only get slot machines if the Seminole tribe and Florida strike an agreement.

Hialeah Park's owners are moving forward with the horse races with the hope that state legislators will change the law so that Hialeah can still offer slot machines regardless of the Seminole tribe's decision. In the meantime, Hialeah Park's customers rejoiced that the historic landmark has avoided demise by wrecking ball.


Monday, 08 March 2010
Theo Evans