Absentees Push Florida Slots Vote Over Top

With vote totals changing minute by minute Nov. 4, a constitutional amendment that would allow voters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida to vote on racetrack slot machines headed into the win column.

On Nov. 3, it appeared the measure has been defeated, but absentee ballots hadn't been counted in well-populated counties, including Broward and Miami-Dade, where it already had strong support. As of 1:30 p.m. EST, the tally stood at 3,507,706 in favor and 3,439,037 against.

That's a margin of more than 68,000, and one racing official indicated it's not likely to go backward as more votes are tabulated.

"I think we can finally high-five now," said Linda Mills, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "Even the election office has given us the high sign. It's just a very exciting time down here. And the most exciting part is we have everybody (in the racing and breeding industry) on the same page."

"This is a major first step forward for the Thoroughbred industry in Florida," Don Dizney, president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, said in a release. "The economic benefits of this will be great and will be felt throughout the state, including right here in Marion County. I'm thrilled it passed.

"It would have been a lot larger majority if voters had completely understood the real issues of fairness and regulation. This was a vote for fairness and regulation."

Should the measure pass by more than 35,000 votes, there would be no recount. There could, however, be legal challenges, perhaps by Indian tribes that heavily campaigned to defeat the measure.

Casino gambling in Florida is available at Indian casinos and on offshore boats. The racing industry has been fighting for the right to expanded gambling in an effort to remain competitive.

The amendment would authorize a second vote in the two counties, probably early next year, and if that one passed, seven pari-mutuel facilities would be eligible for slot machines. The volume of support for the Nov. 2 measure in Broward and Miami-Dade counties indicates a second referendum would have a solid shot at passage.

The Thoroughbred tracks that would be affected should the measures pass and enabling legislation be approved are Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park. Other tracks that would have slots are Pompano Park, a harness track; the Flagler and Hollywood Greyhound tracks; and the Dania and Miami jai alai frontons.

Mills said horsemen pledged $1 million to the campaign to be paid back through purses in the next three years.

The state's cut of revenue from slots would go toward education throughout the state on a percentage basis. Racing's share of the revenue would stay in the two counties in which slots are located. The revenue splits for racetracks, purses, and breed development won't be decided until the enabling legislation is developed.