Panhandle Voters Approve Slots, Court Battle Looms
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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Voters in two north Florida counties approved measures that may allow slot machine permits at pari-mutual facilities in the counties on Tuesday.
The votes in Washington County near Panama City and Gadsden County near Tallahassee marked the first approvals of slot gaming by voters outside Miami-Dade and Broward County, but voter approval doesn’t guarantee the tracks will be transformed into new casinos anytime soon.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has issued a legal opinion saying state law permits referendums to authorize slots only in two South Florida counties and the question now is likely to end up in courts.
Gov. Rick Scott said on Tuesday that he plans to follow Bondi’s opinion.
“We are not going to issue those licenses, we are going to follow her opinion,” Scott said.
The dog track in Ebro in Washington County, north of Panama City, is seeking to offer slot gaming and a new barrel horse racing track in Gretna in Gadsden County would offer slots.
About 3,800 voters in tiny Washington County voted “yes” on the slots referendum to about 2,800 opposed, according to preliminary results.
In Gadsden County the vote was more convincing, approving the idea 63 percent to 37 percent.
The president of the company that runs the Gretna track, however, made it clear that he believes the company has met the legal obligations to add slot machines.
James Dorris, president of the PCI Gaming Authority, said the company would now start the process to offer slots at the facility along I-10 west of Tallahassee.
“We will now work through the licensing process with the State of Florida and deal with those who will erect legal obstacles to oppose the project,” Dorris said. “We are grateful for the support shown by the vote today and remain committed to delivering on the promise of creating over 1500 new jobs by growing Creek Entertainment Gretna into a year round resort destination.”
The votes come amid an ongoing battle in the Capitol over the future of gambling in the Sunshine State.
Lawmakers are considering bills that would authorize the creation of three large mega destination resort casinos in South Florida.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”