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Hialeah announces $60M expansion

 Hialeah Park Racing and Casino officials announced an “immediate and ongoing expansion” this week that will cost $60 million and be completed by the end of 2015.

President John J. Brunetti said plans include expansion and enhancement of the poker room, renovations to the Fountain Terrace outdoor entertainment venue and the eventual addition of 235 slots.  

Those machines will be installed in the other half of the existing grandstand. Hialeah had remade half of the grandstand in order to open its current area, which houses 839 slots.

The poker room will grow from 25 tables to 37. Brunetti cited the recent closing of Studz Poker Club at Calder as a reason to start now. Studz closed as collateral damage in an agreement that allowed Gulfstream Park to take over racing at Calder, which will run only 40 dates a year at the Miami Gardens track.

“We believe this is the perfect time to increase the size and amenities of the poker room,” Brunetti said, adding that Hialeah also will expand the dining facilities and sports bar in the poker room area.

The outdoor bar, lounge and entertainment venue at Fountain Terrace — located outside the south entrance of the casino —  will get an overhead covering because the heat shoos away daytime business. Officials said the covering will help with night-time events as well.

Also in the plans are a simulcasting theater, where fans can bet on horses, dogs and jai-alai from around the country.

“The Brunetti family remains committed to the long term goal of revitalizing this iconic landmark and returning Hialeah Park — The “Grand Dame” — to her past glory,” Vice President Randall Smith said.

Hialeah Park Chairman John J. Brunetti Sr. repeated Hialeah Park’s goal to see thoroughbred horse racing return. For now, the track offers only quarterhorses, which sprint for about 25 seconds down the straightaway. It’s not much, but it's enough to make them eligible to offer slots and poker.

Hialeah opened its slots in August and averages more than $5 million per month in revenues, about the same as Casino Miami Jai-Alai, but about $1 million per month less than Calder Race Course and Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade. But it led the four in poker revenues, crossing $600,000, barely surpassing Magic City and well ahead of Casino Miami and Calder.

Hialeah got a late start in the casino business because it wasn't part of the 2008 slot amendment that Miami-Dade voters approved. But state legislators in 2010 voted Hialeah in, and the maneuver survived a Florida Supreme Court challenge.

Brunetti had bought the track in 1977 and closed it in 2001, saying there was too much horse racing competition. He thought about converting the 220-acre property to condominiums, but instead made plans to revive Hialeah Park after the slot referendum passed. Longer-term plans include two 750-room hotels and an entertainment and retail district.

In its glory days, Hialeah Park hosted 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, U.S. presidents and sports stars such as Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali. The park earned it a spot in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The park is known for its pink flamingos — they’re in the opening scene of “Miami Vice” —  but their reproduction had been dormant for the past five years until Dennis Testa, vice president of operations, placed plastic eggs near the birds’ habitat. Since then, the have laid at least 63 eggs.

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