Parimutuel owners may again seek voters' OK for slots
By Dan Dolan
Buoyed by the initial successes of Broward County's new slot-machine palaces, Miami-Dade gaming interests say they'll ask voters later this year to OK installation of one-armed bandits at three existing pari-mutuel wagering sites.
Miami Jai-Alai vice president Dan Licciardi said last week that recent polls commissioned by his firm and the county's two other betting centers, Calder Race Course and Flagler Greyhound Park, indicate residents are ready to legalize slot-machine operations — two years after rejecting the idea by 3,000 votes.
"We believe the political climate has changed," Mr. Licciardi said. "People have seen the positive things that have happened in Broward County and want to bring that success to Dade. Much of the previous opposition has passed."
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who actively stumped against slot machines along with former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, is taking a wait-and-see attitude this time, his aides say.
With Mr. Bush out of office and Mr. Alvarez in neutral, the odds favor slot-machine betting becoming a ballot issue this year, said County Commissioner Sally Heyman, who supported the 2005 initiative.
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said she'd back putting the issue to a vote again once Broward's experiment is proven to be an unqualified success.
"Last time around, much of the opposition to slot machines was based on so-called moral issues," said Dario Moreno, a political analyst who heads Florida International University's Metropolitan Center. "People feared you'd get the Las Vegas Strip effect — pawn shops and other relatively undesirable businesses — locating near the casinos.
"Broward's experience could prove those doomsayers wrong, which will strengthen the arguments for bringing slot machines here," said Mr. Moreno.
That's what Mr. Licciardi and his associates are betting on. In the first 30 days of operation, 516 slot machines at Gulfstream Park generated $3.2 million in state tax revenue dedicated to public education, he said.
Broward stands to gain up to 4,000 jobs and $800 million in construction projects as a result of its four new slot-machine casinos, he said. The county also gets a portion of each casino's gross revenues, he said.
Under the Miami-Dade plan, the county would get 1.5% of the first $250 million in gross gaming revenue, Mr. Licciardi said. All earnings above that would be taxed at 2%. State education programs would receive a portion of the take, too.
Ms. Heyman said Miami-Dade's pari-mutuel interests have agreed to help municipalities pay for new roads and other improvements that might be needed as a result of increased traffic around their facilities.
Mr. Licciardi said his group will probably ask the county commission to put the issue on the November ballot. He said they will not request a special single-issue election, which would cost taxpayers $3 million.