The casino, part of an attempt to revitalize the historic horse track, has been busier than expected since opening Aug. 14.
Hialeah has been offering $20 to $100 in free slot play to customers from rival casinos that join Hialeah’s player’s club. Those benefits will likely be reduced soon, Vice President of Casino Operations Steve Calabro said, but meanwhile, guests waited as much as an hour to get a card (not required to play) with their bonus slot play downloaded.
“Our biggest glitches starting out have been because of volume,” Calabro said. “But we’ve also been able to build up a database of players quicker than most.”
President John Brunetti said he expects much of his business to come from Magic City Casino and Casino Miami Jai-Alai, two casinos within five miles of Hialeah that took in $137 million via slots last year. Brunetti said he understands that not all players who ditched their casinos this week are going to make Hialeah their home. Many just stop by to collect their free play, and when that’s all used up, they’ll not be back.
“Right now it’s hard to tell what the real count (of players) is,” he said. “We’ll have to wait until it cools off a little.”
On Tuesday, Hialeah invited the media to tour the casino. The grand opening celebration is set Aug. 30 through Sept. 1 with Hansel y Raul, Willy Chirino and others.
Brunetti bought the track in 1977 and closed it in 2001. He thought about building condominiums, but instead made plans to revive Hialeah Park after Miami-Dade County voters in 2008 approved slots for the three pari-mutuels that were in operation at the time. Arguments by its rivals that Hialeah wasn’t part of the deal went to the Florida Supreme Court.
Like all pari-mutuels casinos, smoking is prohibited because of the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, but Calabro installed 35 slot machines on a covered patio for smokers to play, copying an innovation by Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Beach and expanded on by Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach. Because the poker room is on the second floor, a veranda with room for five smoker-friendly tables will also open sometime, Brunetti said.
“We watched and waited so we could get a feel of what the public wanted,” Brunetti said.
Casual restaurants include the Havana Café and the Fountain Terrace Café, while Bella Notte offers sit-down service with tablecloths. Italian, fish and chicken dishes cost about $15, most steaks are over $20 and the splurge item is a 10-ounce filet ($43).
Calabro also said the casino would be driven by service, noting that about 9,000 people applied for the 300 jobs, about half of which were filled by plucking staff from South Florida casinos.
“We are training them over and over and are committed to giving the best customer service,” he said, which includes greeting players, answering their questions about machines and resolving any problems they may have.
Calabro also said the casino would offer “the best payouts.” Overall casino payout information is posted on the entryways of all pari-mutuel casinos overseen by the state. (The Seminole Tribe of Florida is not required to display its payouts.)
For the fiscal year that started in July, the six casino pari-mutuels have payouts ranging from 91 percent on each dollar played to 93.9 percent. The highest-paying casino? Hialeah’s competition, Magic City Casino.