Slot machines to be on ballot Jan. 29 after commission vote
By Wayne Tompkins
A measure to bring slot machines to a horse-racing track, a dog-racing track and a jai-alai fronton will be on the Jan. 29 ballot in Miami-Dade after county commissioners voted 9-1 Tuesday to give a second chance to an issue that was defeated by a few thousand votes three years ago.
Katy Sorenson was the only dissenter, warning that "gambling and expanding gambling in this way targets the poor. … Those who have the least to lose lose the most."
Such arguments held sway during past attempts to bring slot machines to Miami-Dade, but commissioners and slot-machine proponents say they sense a change in the political climate.
Broward County's experience with slot machines has brought in money from Miami-Dade residents, and pending property-tax cuts have provided a sense of urgency for the county to find other sources of revenue.
"Gambling is all around us," Commissioner Dennis Moss said. "It is occurring in our community, and for the most part, we are not benefiting from that."
Under the Miami-Dade plan, the county would get 1.5% of the first $250 million in gross revenue from the Vegas-style machines. Earnings above that would be taxed at 2%. State education programs would receive a portion of the take.
In January, voters will choose whether to allow installation of slot machines at Miami Jai-Alai, Calder Race Course and Flagler Greyhound Park.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who opposed the similar measure two years ago, this time is ready to reconsider.
While Broward slot machines have not been the magnet for vice some opponents feared, state gambling records show that three Broward sites generated $44 million in tax revenue in the first eight months of the machines' operation — a pace far short of the $177 million annually that the industry projected.
Even so, Mr. Moss compared his experiences at two horse tracks on either side of the Miami-Dade/Broward line — Calder and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
He said that in stark contrast to the aging and declining attendance at Calder, "if you have been to Gulfstream, you can see the amount of investment that is going into the area, the amount of jobs being created.
"This is not a perfect solution, but it gives us an opportunity to get some additional development into an area, get some employment," Mr. Moss said. "Yes, there's a downside, and we need to do what we can to negate that."
Other commissioners also came down on the yes side after weighing the pros and cons.
"The positives should outweigh the negatives somehow (if) the revenue goes to the right place," Commissioner Jose Diaz said.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas also gave her support despite disappointment that the dormant Hialeah Race Track, in the city she represents, was not included among the facilities that would get the machines.