Havenick family out, Poarch Band of Creek Indians in as Magic City Casino sale advances

After a two-month delay and a revamped pitch for what is being called the largest casino deal in state history, the Florida Gaming Control Commission on Wednesday gave conditional approval to the sale of the gambling permit from Magic City Casino in Miami to an Alabama-based Native American tribe.

The decision will allow Miami’s Havenick family and its West Flagler Associates company to complete a multimillion-dollar sale of its casino to PCI Gaming Authority, owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, to operate slot machines, poker and electronic casino games in Miami.

A purchase price was not disclosed, but attorney John Lockwood, who represents both West Flagler Associates and PCI Gaming, told the commission that it will be a cash deal. Industry estimates are that the deal is valued at about $600 million. In 2019, PCI Gaming Authority acquired the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for an estimated $1.3 billion.

It will be the first change in ownership of the casino, long known as the Flagler Dog Track, that has been in the Havenick family for generations. The new owners have ambitious plans, said Jay Dorris, president and CEO of Wind Creek Hospitality, a subsidiary of PCI Gaming that will oversee the development project.

The now-shuttered dog track and its 30 acres of property could be home to a luxury resort adjacent to the casino, similar to the company properties in the Caribbean, and include the addition of shopping centers and “experience-oriented attractions,’’ Dorris said in an interview.

“We’re very pleased that the commission made their conditional approval,’’ he said. “We’ll get the deal closed, and we’re going to be very transparent and provide them with whatever info they need.”

He called the purchase “a fantastic opportunity” to expand on a “successful business” and intends to “improve the property and make additional investments.”

Retaining Magic City’s employees

In the immediate future, Dorris said PCI Gaming intends to retain all Magic City employees, except for some senior executives who will stay with West Flagler Associates. The company will continue to control its other gambling operations, which include a permit to operate summer jai-alai and poker in a future operation near Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood and the Bonita Springs Poker Room near Fort Myers.

Dorris said there will not be any immediate changes but he hopes to get the company’s awards club for patrons going soon.

The unanimous vote in Tallahassee of the Gaming Control Commission — which is missing one member since former chairman John MacIver resigned — was one of the highest profile decisions to come before the newly formed entity. The commission was created by the Legislature and began operating last year to regulate gambling operations in Florida.

In December, the commission halted the asset purchase agreement between West Florida Associations and PCI Gaming and ordered that the companies make public much of 103 redacted pages from the 110-page application.

In January, PCI Gaming altered the proposal by substituting one subsidiary, Wind Creek Miami, LLC, for Gretna Racing, LLC, a different wholly owned subsidiary, as the principal entity to acquire 100% of ownership and equity interest in the Magic City Casino permit. The deal includes a parimutuel operating license, card room license, and the slot machine license for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Gretna Racing, unlike Wind Creek Miami, already has a parimutuel license for quarter horse racing and a card room, making it easier for it to obtain a transfer of the slot license held by West Flagler Associates. Because the slot license was sold in mid-year, Gretna Racing will pay $1 million of the $2 million permit fee, Lockwood told the commission.

Close the deal in 30 days

The commission ordered the parties to close the deal within 30 days and submit all final details to the commission for final approval.

“If it happens as described, it can be approved,’’ said Ross Marshman, general counsel for the commission. “But we have to actually see evidence that what was described actually took place.”

The only opposition to the agreement came from the Seminole Tribe, whose attorney Marc Dunbar gave the commission a history lesson on the legal precedent behind the transfer and sale of parimutuel licenses.

Dunbar argued that the sale to Gretna Racing should not be allowed, not because the company was not a good operator, but because the commission was establishing precedent that he said was not “regulatory best practices.”

“This is the most expensive gaming transaction — if you believe industry rumors — in Florida’s history,’’ he said. “And so, I would encourage you to proceed with diligence. … The Seminole Tribe is not opposed to West Flagler selling its permit or any slot machine licensee selling its permit. It’s just making sure it complies with the statutes.”

Documents show the asset purchase agreement was signed Sept. 20, 2022, between West Flagler Associates and PCI Gaming Authority. The purchase involves all “house cash,” all inventory, all contracts, permits and licenses, all vehicles and trailers.

The documents also show that PCI Gaming Authority will borrow funds to use for future capital improvements.

Dunbar suggested that the commission should have access to those details, which were not released with the application.

Commissioner Charles Drago, a former secretary of the Division of Business Regulation, asked Marshman if he was confident the board had “done all our due diligence in this process to make sure we can make a sound decision today.”

“At this moment, we have done what the statutes and our rules say we have to and must do,’’ Marshman replied.

For more than a decade, the Poarch tribe has expanded its gambling footprint across the U.S. and Caribbean and now has 10 gaming operations.

PCI Gaming Authority holds a greyhound permit and a card room in Pensacola in addition to its barrel racing operation and poker room in Gretna. The company also runs casino operations in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka in Alabama, the Renaissance Aruba and Renaissance Curacao, and the Mobile Greyhound Track in Alabama.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas