Florida Slots And The Ultimate Shell Game - Saturday 12th of March 2005

"You don't always get what you want." The Rolling Stone's mega hit from oh so long ago seems to hold true. That certainly looks like the case when it comes to Broward County slot machines. It appears that what Broward County voters thought they approved is not what they are going to get. Did the voters of Broward County not approve Las Vegas style slot machines? It was pretty clear Miami-Dade Voters said no to a touch of Vegas at their paramutuals.


Word out of Tallahassee is anti-gambling lawmakers are considering allowing only class two slots. Representatives contend the March 8th special Election in Broward County was not specific as to the type of slots allowed. The class two slots are not "Las Vegas Slots." In the case of Florida class two slots found on the Indian Reservations are video gaming machines based on bingo that mirror visually the look of "Las Vegas Slots." Slots they are not, they are glorified bingo games designed to look like much more. They are the "Budlight" of slots.


Why are the lawmakers and the Governor so interested in saddling the paramutals with the class two machines? The answer is obvious. The move is to head off the potentially potent argument that if Florida allows the class three slots the Indian Tribes, based on federal law, the Indians can demand to negotiate with the state to allow the same slots if not full blown casino gambling in the tribe's gaming centers. The Governor and key lawmakers have made it very clear they want no part of real casinos on the reservations. The Governor and anti-gaming lawmakers do not want to give the tribes a leg up on opening full-blown casino gaming. That is why they are involved in pushing class two slots.The reality for the paramutal operators might be if they do not go along with the class two machine proposal they may face very stringent legislative regulations and controls on their enterprise. Like no liquor being served in the slots area, restrictive hours of operation, a tax rate per machine that would make the operation unprofitable.


What went wrong and why are voters not going to get what they thought the voted for? The answer is the language of the ballot question was not specific in defining exactly what kind of slot machine the voters were approving.


In the ballot language in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties the slots were referred to as "slot machines." "Shall slot machines be authorized..." read the Broward County question. "Shall slot machines be allowed..." read the Miami-Dade version. Nowhere were the slots defined and that is where the Governor and his legislative supporters have hung their hats. The Friday before the election when Jeb Bush blitzed through the two counties the Governor???s legislative supporters on were already floating the idea that what the state would allow would not be the "Las Vegas Style" slots.


I asked the Governor if the slots issue won would he provide stewardship for an industry he really was not happy with or would he work to strangle it? His reply was, "If this passes I think we have a duty to adhere the will of the people. I would propose tough regulations but not with the intent of killing potential enterprise." Fair enough but what was the will of the people? Did voters realize that class two machines were an option?


Are the Governor and his powerful allies working a shell game on the paramutuals? Jeb just might be out slicking the gamers


When reporting on the slots issue we certainly referred to real slot machines, we were careful to show Las Vegas slots in our news stories. The anti gaming forces including their supporters in the print media painted a picture of Las Vegas at the tracks, the beginning of Vegas on the beach. No one said much if anything about anything less than real slots. That is except the slots campaign, the paramutuals, that continually harped on creating a "level playing field" for the paramutuals in a state where they face competition from the Indians class two operations. Faced with the reality of real Las Vegas Slots in Broward County the anti-gaming lobby has seized on that campaign theme claiming that class two machines would provide the paramutuels that "level playing field" with the Indian gaming complexes. Now that campaign language is coming back to haunt the paramutals. They may have to eat the class two machines, at least in the short term.


Though the Broward paramutals may soon be on a level playing field with the Indian gaming operations they really wanted much more, real Las Vegas slots and most likely that is what the voters wanted when they went to the voting machines.


The real question is will the paramutals, with class two slots, poker, horse and dog racing really compete with the Indians Casinos? Has the Governor and his legislative allies slipped the paramutals "a class two mickey" that will slowly suffocate the slot enterprise?


I smell a lawsuit to that will aim to define just exactly what voters were voting for when they approved slots for Broward County. But there might be a better way than providing lawyers with a payday.


My suggestion: commission an independent poll of citizens who voted in the Broward special election. Ask each elector when he or she cast a vote for slots was his or her preference class two slots or the real McCoy. The poll could serve as a guide for the lawmakers deciding the slots issue.


The Governor talks about the will of the people on the slots issue. Let's see what the people were really thinking when they voted yes on slots.

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