Slot machine proponents' survey predicts 6,000 additional jobs
By April M. Havens
Slot machines could create up to 6,497 jobs in Miami-Dade County in their first full year of operation, says an economic-impact study commissioned by backers of a move to legalize slot machines in the county.
The Yes for a Greater Miami-Dade campaign says the study will help voters understand the impact of the slot machines before going to the polls Jan. 29 to vote whether to allow them.
The study, prepared by Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group Inc., also projects a first-year economic impact of $422 million, a figure that includes spin-off spending. Further, Washington Economics Group projects a first-year infusion of $26 million in tax revenues to Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Miami Gardens, homes of the three pari-mutuel venues where slots are sought. The tax revenue figure is based on an approximate 1.5% tax rate paid by each facility to the county and its home city.
Robert David Cruz, The Washington Economics Group chief economist and co-author of the study, said new job creation and additional funding to local governments are the most significant points of the study.
"The job impact is definitely important, especially since the economy isn't doing as well as it has in the past," Mr. Cruz said. "And labor compensation for those jobs, including fringe benefits, will average almost $40,000. That's not an insignificant value in Miami-Dade County."
If voters pass the measure, the county's three pari-mutuels — Calder Race Course, Flagler Sports and Entertainment Center and Miami Jai-Alai — could operate up to 2,000 traditional class III Las Vegas-style slot machines for 18 hours a day during the week and 24 hours weekends and holidays.
Class III or traditional slot machine systems allow a gambler to play against the individual machine, as opposed to class II machines that are connected to a central computer system in which gamblers compete against each other to win.
If passed, state law would allow automated teller machines in the facilities, but not on the gaming floor. Alcohol could be served, but free or discounted drinks would be barred.
Of the pari-mutuels' gross profits, 50% would go the state, some of which would fund public education statewide. Another percentage — most likely 1.5%, gaming officials say — would be paid by each facility to the city in which it operates and to the county. Additionally, a percentage would go to dogmen or horsemen (breeders) at each facility.
Each pari-mutuel is responsible for negotiating its own tax rate with the city and county and racing purses, according to C. Kenneth Dunn, president of Calder Race Course. "In addition, $3 million would go to the state as a licensing fee, and $250,000 goes to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling," he said.
In Broward County, where voters approved slots in 2005, the slot machines average $156 in net revenue per machine per day, according to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation. Currently 3,867 machines are operating.
The Washington Economics Group report also projected the slot machines would help account for one million hotel nights a year. "We're not saying they are coming specifically for the gambling or that if the gambling weren't here they wouldn't come," Mr. Cruz said. Rather, that number reflects visitors who would use the slot machines in addition to other activities in Miami-Dade County, he said.
In August, William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention &Visitors Bureau, said slot machines in pari-mutuel venues "won't necessarily draw tourists but will be an additional offering" and they "wouldn't hurt" the local tourism industry.
The pro-slots campaign team, made up of Flagler Sports and Entertainment Center and Calder Race Course, has held focus groups and believes voters are ready to approve slots in January, Mr. Dunn said.
The campaign has not yet polled voters, but it plans to. Internal polling results, however, will not be released, according to Sarah Bascom, communications director for the campaign.
"Right now we're still in the planning stages. We're very encouraged by all the feedback we're getting," Ms. Bascom said. "We are definitely going forward with the January date, and we'll be doing a lot of public education and community outreach. We want the voters to know the facts this time around."
The campaign's internal focus groups have "really helped us hone our public outreach strategy, and our feedback has been good," she said.
From here, the campaign will takes its message to television, radio and speaking engagements, said Izzy Havenick, vice president of Flagler dog track. Gaming officials are reasonably confident slots will be approved even after a disappointing 3,000-vote defeat in 2005.
"As of now," Mr. Havenick said, "we have not seen or been made aware of any organized opposition."