JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Gambling forces lost one and won one March 8 in South Florida counties’ referendums on slot machines.
A controversial gambling expansion initiative lost in Miami-Dade County, with nearly 52 percent of voters rejecting the referendum, while 56 percent of Broward County voters authorized slot machines at its four pari-mutuel facilities.
The split decision is considered a setback for the gambling industry which spent about $7 million to get slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities following the narrow adoption of Amendment 4 last November authorizing the local referendums in the two South Florida counties. Advocates claimed that slot machines could raise about $500 million annually for the state’s public education needs, while opponents -– which were far outspent in the campaign -– argued the social costs of expanded gambling far outweighed any projected new tax revenues.
In the waning days of the slot machines campaign, Gov. Jeb Bush aggressively lobbied South Florida voters against the referendums, with a day of campaigning in the last weekend before the election and interviews with local media outlets.
“It was a split, and I think what is certainly clear is that there is no great mandate for expanded gambling in South Florida,” anti-slots spokesman Roy Teicher told the Associated Press. “It’s really vital that attention be paid to this and that people are vigilant in following up on this. And now the battle goes to the legislature.”
The Florida legislature -– which opened its 2005 session the same day as the South Florida slots referendums –- is left to determine how the constitutional amendment will be implemented in enabling legislation. Two Indian tribes which operate casinos have suggested they will demand the right to introduce slot machines at their facilities in light of the adoption of Amendment 4.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.