Comedian George Carlin would have you believe that "paper or plastic" and "aisle or window" are the only real choices in America these days. With important national, state, and local elections coming up Nov. 2, I beg to differ.
Voters in at least six states are faced with ballot initiatives that can lead to progress or pitfalls for the horse racing and breeding industries.
California racetracks and card clubs have surrendered--for now--their attempt to gain voter approval for slot machines. Proposition 68 would allow 16 tracks and card clubs to install up to 30,000 slot machines if any Indian gaming tribe in the state refused to pay 25% of winnings to local schools and law enforcement agencies. But the initiative flies in the face of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to squeeze revenue from nine tribes in newly signed compacts.
Schwarzenegger aggressively opposed Prop 68. So did Native Americans, whose pockets are deeper and lined with far more cash to spend on advertising than the initiative's backers. According to published reports, the tribes raised $40 million to oppose Prop 68. The tracks and card clubs spent more than $24 million, then pulled the plug in early October when the cold, hard truth of public opinion polls told them they had little chance. A new ballot initiative could be ready as early as next year.
Surrender on Prop 68 allowed the tribes to focus their resources on the passage of Proposition 70, which would permit unlimited tribal gaming in exchange for an 8.84% corporate income tax. Schwarzenegger also opposes that measure, which, if passed, could deliver a crippling blow to the racing and breeding industry. Prop 70 is behind in the polls.
In Florida, most entities in the racing and breeding industry are firmly behind constitutional Amendment 4. The statewide initiative would allow residents of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to vote in subsequent elections on whether to permit slot machines at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons in those two counties. Amendment 4 would require that any gaming taxes go toward education.
Florida voters have soundly rejected gambling initiatives three times since 1978, most recently in 1994 by a 65-35% count. This year could be different. One recent poll showed 49% of likely voters in support of Amendment 4, with 45% opposed and 6% undecided.
If slot machines are permitted at South Florida pari-mutuel operations, tribes would be permitted to negotiate compacts to expand their gaming menus. It would, at least, level the playing field.
In other states:
* Racing and breeding interests oppose Michigan's Proposal 1, which requires any future expansion of gaming to be approved in a separate state-wide referendum. The proposal is backed by Detroit casinos and gaming tribes. Gov. Jennifer Granholm's opposition may sway public opinion against the measure, which had the support of just 44% of likely voters in a recent poll.
* Nebraska Amendment 3, crafted by the state legislature, would permit up to two casinos in the state that apparently would not benefit the horse industry. A horse industry-supported petition drive put Initiatives 417-420 on the ballot permitting two casinos plus 4,900 gaming devices at sites throughout the state, including racetracks.
* Oklahoma ballot Question 712 would permit Remington Park, Blue Ribbon Downs, and Will Rogers Downs to install electronic gaming devices. It also would tax and provide oversight on tribal gaming.
* Washington Initiative 892 would authorize gambling establishments throughout the state to operate the same number and type of electronic games that Native Americans currently offer. The tribes have been allotted 18,000 slot machines.