Bill would pave way for slot machines in north Florida – Florida Politics

Bill would pave way for slot machines in north Florida

A north Florida lawmaker has filed legislation to again allow Gadsden County to hold a “countywide referendum” on authorizing slot machine gambling at a local race track.

Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Democrat who represents Gadsden and part of Leon County, filed the bill (HB 1111) Tuesday for the 2018 Legislative Session starting next week.

But the bill may be a long shot in a Republican-controlled House that opposes expanding gambling. Gretna and Gadsden County—which has “unique economic development challenges,” the bill says—have long sought to add slots.

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court last year ruled against the track and facilities in seven other counties that previously passed local referendums allowing slots, saying “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.” 

The holding was limited to non-charter counties, however. Gadsden does not have a charter but did pass a slots referendum in 2012. Tuesday’s bill responds to the court’s ruling that “the Legislature did not specifically authorize” that referendum.

It would OK the following ballot question: “Shall slot machine gaming be authorized at the pari-mutuel quarter horse racing facility in the City of Gretna?”

 

Paul Seago, Executive Director of No Casinos, said his organization has “major concerns” with the bill.

“First, we think it violates the Florida Constitution, which prohibits expansion of casino gambling without a statewide vote,” he said. “Second, it sets up a violation of the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe, jeopardizing millions of dollars in revenue.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida enjoys exclusive rights to offers slots outside of South Florida; breaking that exclusivity entitles the Tribe to reduce or stop paying a cut of its gambling revenue to the state.

“Third, any municipality that thinks casino gambling is a key to economic development need look no further than Atlantic City to see the associated crime and social ills that come with it,” Seago added. “For these reasons we will vigorously oppose HB 1111.”

But Antonio Jefferson, city manager of Gretna, said allowing slots there is the best chance for his rural, impoverished area’s shot at revival. Gadsden, with a population of roughly 46,000, has a 20 percent poverty rate.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which manages and operates the horse track known as Creek Entertainment/Gretna, has previously promised to invest in a new facility if they get slots. That could generate up to 1,000 new jobs.

“We just want the citizens’ voices to be heard on this issue,” Jefferson told Florida Politics. “We want our kids to be able to climb the economic ladder right here. Considering the many millions that the tribe promises to invest here, how could that not be a good thing?”

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

2 Comments

  1. Gretna interstate exchange (Exit 174) has done everything right by developmental standards for interstate commerce.

    They provided water, sewer, fiber optics, and paved frontages, three-phase power and expedited permitting at their interstate exchange in an attempt to capitalize on some of the 32,000 cars per day that pass their exchange daily.

    Keyword is “Pass their exchange” because that is about all that happens now. There is no reward for their infrastructure efforts which resemble a republican development plan more than the admirable work of the resilient community they are.

    This poor community needs a break from the years of big dog Tallahassee politics that eroded farming, local commerce, and just about all hope of anything except interstate commerce trade.

  2. The money the Seminoles give the State goes to all of the people in the State in one way or another. This could be billions of dollars. The racetracks will pay only a minute fraction in taxes for their slots to the state and that money will do very little for the millions of people in need of state funding. The race tracks would rather jeopardize billions of revenue for their own greed. They would not employ 1000 new employees for a few slot machines. The place would have to be enormous which they couldn’t achieve since they would never be a destination resorts facility. They would only cater to locals. If in fact the racetracks built a hotel and a super structure casino with high end restaurants, family entertainment, parks and other venues to become a destination resort then I could see them having a shot at being a candidate for a license. But if they are only in it to acquire slots and not go for the trophy property then they should be dismissed as unqualified applicants.

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