Jacksonville looks poised to have more gaming options available, as a referendum to approve slot machines at bestbet Jacksonville was approved Tuesday night.
With 410,879 votes counted, the measure was ahead 222,085 to 188,794 — a margin of 54 to 46 percent.
The effort behind the referendum, funded by Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, had over $2 million behind it, with no serious opposition manifesting.
As well, the marketing effort had appeal that transcended political parties. Internal polling revealed strong support from Democrats, NPA voters, and African-American voters — remarkable constituencies, especially given that the effort was driven by typically GOP donors and interest groups.
The marketing operation behind the referendum was multifaceted, with intentionally non-aggressive television ads positioning the measure as “something we can all agree on.” As well, there were aggressive field efforts at early voting locations in Northwest Jacksonville over the weekend and at polling places in the same area on Tuesday, to build the measure’s strength with the aforementioned constituency groups.
The slots referendum is the second Duval County referendum of the year with at least $2 million in dedicated resources.
The “Yes for Jacksonville” effort saw a variety of donors, most of them institutional stakeholders, pushing the pension reform referendum’s coffers over the $2.1 million mark.
That referendum required considerable voter education, as voters in tax-averse Duval County had to be convinced of the wisdom of extending a 1/2-cent infrastructure sales tax past its expected sunset date in 2030.
The extension was intended to provide actuarial certainty that there would be a dedicated funding source for the nearly $3 billion of unfunded liability across Jacksonville’s public pension plans.
The slots referendum hasn’t required such marketing; resistance (including from the religious right) has not manifested, in part because the measure has been marketed as a way to expand entertainment for consenting adults, bringing new jobs to Jacksonville and a potential tax windfall of $5.7 million (1.5 percent of anticipated slots revenue).
Bestbet Jacksonville, which hopes to host the slot machines, has been in the news recently for a state ruling prohibiting “designated-player” poker games. With that in mind, the referendum offers the well-connected owners of bestbet a viable revenue stream at a time when it seems they need it.