First VLT Election in Florida Set for March

The Broward County (Florida) Commission voted Tuesday to approve a plan allowing voters to decide whether to allow video lottery terminals at the county's four pari-mutuel facilities, although a number of details are still undetermined.

By a vote of 8-1, the commission ratified an agreement reached with pari-mutuel operators whereby the county would be paid a total of $2.5 million by September to offset the cost of a special election on March 8. Additionally, once the VLTs are operational, the county would receive 1.5% of the first $250 million in generated revenue and 2% of additional revenue. The cities in which the facilities are located will also receive benefits: 1.7% of the first $250 million and 2.5% thereafter.

Gulfstream Park, located in Hallandale Beach, is the sole Thoroughbred track located in Broward County. Hollywood Greyhound Track, Dania Jai Alai and Pompano Harness Track are the county's other pari-mutuel permit holders.

Pete Corwin, assistant to the county administrator, said that the agreement is similar in nature to those that would be expected of any developer looking to work with the county and would help counteract the costs for "infrastructure improvements" that would be necessary.

Corwin also said that the percentages included estimates of 1,000 machines per facility and gross daily revenue of $273 per machine, but provided no other specifics.

That leaves the specifics of VLT operation to the Florida legislature, which will convene in March for its 2005. There has been some speculation that the tracks could operate VLTs without regulation from the legislature, but state Senator Steve Geller (D-Hallandale Beach) expects the issue to be high on the legislature's agenda.

"The legislature will not be a problem," Geller said. "The problem may be the governor. I worry that the governor will do something that makes (VLTs) impossible."

Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has long been a foe of expanded gambling and opposed Proposition 4. The statewide measure, approved by Florida voters last November, enabled both Broward and Miami-Dade counties to allow racetrack VLTs in their locales, with the funding going toward education throughout the state.

Proposition 4 passed by a nearly 2-1 margin in Broward County, making it a strong likelihood that voters will approve the measure during the March 8 balloting. In Miami-Dade County, where commissioners are expected to vote on Thursday to also place the issue on a March 8 ballot, the issue passed by a 57%-43% margin.

During Tuesday's Broward commission meeting, Paul Sigo, executive director of No Casinos – the most vocal of the groups that opposed Proposition 4 last November – indicated his organization was resigned to VLTs at Broward racetracks but urged the commission to withhold a vote until the parameters of state regulation were certain.

"We still don't know the kind of machines, the hours they will be allowed, the tax rate or any number of issues," he said. "You wouldn't buy a house or a car with all of these unknowns."

But Earl Bender of Floridians for a Level Playing Field, the pro-VLT PAC funded by the seven Broward and Miami-Dade county pari-mutuel facilities, said he was confident that the legislature would be reasonable in their regulations. "The people have voiced their feelings on this and there's no way that the legislature could disregard their opinion," he said.