Voter-approved slot machines face hurdle before becoming reality in Jacksonville

A major legal hurdle remains before voter-approved slot machines will be available to play in Jacksonville.

While Duval County voters resoundingly approved 2,000 slot machines for the bestbet pari-mutuel facility near Regency, the Florida Supreme Court is still determining whether a state statute permits counties outside of South Florida to expand gambling through a referendum.

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The referendum, which passed with 54 percent support in the Nov. 8 general election, cites a 2004 constitutional amendment allowing slots machines at certain Miami-Dade and Broward County pari-mutuel facilities through a constitutional amendment to mean voters in Duval county have the same right.

The group No Casinos, an opponent of gambling expansion in Florida, says only one side of County Referendum No. 1 was represented – through millions of dollars put up by the owners of bestbet.

“It’s not a full picture of what happens when slot machines come to a community,” said Paul Seago, referencing the touting of new jobs and government revenue from slot machines by proponents.

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Seago believes the Florida Supreme Court will determine whether slot machines are only allowed in South Florida, per the state statute, or whether a Constitutional amendment is necessary for expansion of slot machine gaming in the state.

Seago’s opposition to slot machines stems from the rejection that this form of gaming brings new revenue to cities. He says that money used on slots is actually taken away from local businesses.

In the meantime, slot machines are on hold outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

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A spokesman for bestbet says legal and regulatory steps are still in the way of bringing slot machines to Jacksonville, but they’re happy with the support from voters.

“If you talk to the other businesses on Monument Road in the Regency area, you’ll hear that they’re excited for the opportunity of bestbet to grow, because they have seen benefits of having their businesses grow as well,” said Brian Hughes, a well-established Jacksonville strategist who represents the pari-mutuel.

Bestbet estimates the gaming expansion to bring as many as 2,000 jobs to the area, and add $4-5 million in revenue to the city.