Lawmakers in Florida have spent the last two years debating all sorts of gambling related legislation. One of the biggest issues has been whether to legalize the installment of slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in some counties outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. The state may soon be adding St. Lucie County to the growing list of advocates.
Located on the eastern coast of Florida, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce Jai Alai & Poker is pushing for a slot machines referendum on the November ballot. Managers of the limited gambling destination would like to know if voters in St. Lucie County agree with them that slot machines should be added to the line-up of wagering opportunities.
At present, Fort Pierce Jai Alai & Poker provides only what its name entails – jai alai matches and live poker tables. According to a letter delivered to the St. Lucie County Commission on May 4, the fronton believes an expansion to its current gambling offerings is detrimental to its future success.
“With competition not only from the Internet but other nearby counties, expanded local and legal gaming opportunities are an integral part of the future success of Fort Pierce Jai-Alai and St. Lucie County as an entertainment destination,” read the letter to the commission.
Slot Machines Referendum Only the Beginning
The first step to achieving that goal would be getting the approval of countywide voters. However, even if the commission decides to grant the appearance of a slot machine referendum on the ballot come November 8, and even if a majority of voters check the ‘Yes‘ box on that ballot, it won’t be enough for the Fort Pierce fronton to expand its services.
Florida’s gambling laws currently prohibit slot machines just about everywhere in the state. Only racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, as well as tribal casinos who operate under federal regulations, are permitted to install slots on their premises.
Unless state legislators pass a statewide gambling bill to legalize slot machines at tracks and frontons in counties where voters have approved them, the referendum is nothing more than a “straw ballot” designed to let “the Legislature know how the public feels about the issue,” explained St. Lucie County Attorney Dan McIntyre.
St. Lucie isn’t the only county where tracks and frontons are fighting to add slot machines to their roster of gambling opportunities. Voters in Brevard and Palm Beach Counties have already been presented with similar referendums, both voting in favor of expanding into slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities. In North Florida, voters in Gadsden County approved a slots referendum back in 2012.
Gov. Rick Scott previously proposed a new compact with the Seminole Tribe that would have granted them exclusive rights to operate live table games in Florida in exchange for billions of dollars in guaranteed state revenue over the next 20 years. However, that proposal would also have allowed slot machines at various South Florida pari-mutuels, pending voter approval.
Adverse to the concept of any gambling expansion, the State Legislature rejected Gov. Scott’s proposal in March. They also rejected a plan that would grandfather-in slot machine laws only for pari-mutuels in counties where voters had already passed a referendum.
Kim Johnson, Chairman of St. Lucie County Commission, said he supports the voters’ right to decide, adding, “We want to preserve our seat at the table if the bill comes again before the Legislature.”
A public meeting is scheduled for 9:00am on Tuesday, June 21 at the St. Lucie County Administration Building [2300 Virginia Ave, Fort Pierce, FL] where residents can weigh in on the subject of putting a slot machines referendum on the November ballot.