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Pro-slots political committee gears up in Jacksonville

Some things don’t change in Jacksonville.

Just as was the case before August’s County Referendum 1, an overwhelmingly approved vote that allows the city to extend a current half-cent sales tax to address the unfunded pension liability, there is a November County Referendum 1 also.

The first mailer selling the slots vote looks just like the ones selling the pension tax over the summer. This and other promotional efforts to come will, as was the case with the pension tax push, be micro-targeted, with extensive polling to turn out the vote of supporters and potential supporters, while not marketing to those inclined to oppose the matter.

A different committee is doing the work: Families for Safety and Prosperity,” which sees Venice’s Eric Robinson as treasurer, and Brian Hughes and Tim Baker running the campaign, as is so often the case with successful political efforts in Northeast Florida.

Contacted Tuesday morning, Hughes offered this synopsis of the marketing effort.

“We are excited to start the campaign making it clear to Duval voters this small addition to gaming entertainment for adults will have great benefit for all of Jacksonville,” Hughes wrote in an email.

“It keeps the new game only where the pari-mutuel license already exists,” Hughes added, “and adds millions of additional revenue to the city’s bottom line. That means more jobs and more money for quality of life priorities.”

But as of Sept. 30, this committee didn’t quite have the $2.1 million raised to sell the pension tax.

In fact, there was no reported financial activity for the account.

Expect that to change when the next report drops.

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slotsa“Families for Safety and Prosperity” has a mail piece currently that reprises the optimistic themes of “Yes for Jacksonville,” the committee used to sell the pension tax over the summer.

The logo and design are aspirational, as is the “YOU Have The Power” messaging that evokes the urgent positivity of inspirational speakers in the Tony Robbins mold.

Colors — blue, green, and yellow — likewise seem purposely removed from the color coding of general election communications in competitive campaigns.

Not a blotch of red in sight.

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14697341_10109412296648881_1855417782_oThe arguments made are likewise anodyne, hewing to the talking points Hughes expressed.

The referendum “authorizes licensed pari-mutuels” to offer slots, as part of a portfolio of “responsible gaming options.”

The referendum “brings up to 2,000 new jobs to Jacksonville.” These are “good-paying jobs” that average $50,000-a-year salaries.

As well, a yes vote would limit slots to “adults only” at one facility: the politically connected bestbet, which donated to more people on the city council than not in 2015. The council authorized the November referendum by an 18-1 vote.

And slots — specifically, the expected $5 million annual revenue — will support parks, police, and public programs … all proven crowd-pleasing tropes for the Jacksonville body politic.

The arguments made by the mailer are neatly distilled in the Hughes quote above.

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Bestbet representatives ably made the sale in the spring to the Jacksonville City Council in everything from private meetings to committee workshops.

In the end, not much arm twisting was needed. During a committee workshop, one councilman wanted to “fast track” the measure authorizing a referendum.

And the doughty preachers? They have — mostly— sat this one out. They avoided fervid denunciations of the measure during the six weeks it was on the council agenda, preferring instead to marshal dudgeon at an easier target: a gentrifying craft brewery proposed for the long-suffering Springfield neighborhood.

In the end, this will pass by a significant number. The marketing is a reprise of what worked in August.

And just as in August, no significant opposition will manifest.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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