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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Editorial: Commissioners right to reject referendum for slot machines at Derby Lane

Gamblers who patronize Derby Lane in Pinellas County can wager on live dog races, participate in legal poker games and place bets on horse races at tracks across the country.

But those aren’t enough options for Derby Lane’s owners, who asked the Pinellas County Commission to put a referendum on the ballot this November to allow slot machines.

Though state law forbids the machines at Derby Lane and other tracks in the area, the owners want to be ready should the law be changed during the 2015 legislative session.

Pinellas commissioners balked at the request because of the state prohibition and the logistical complications of getting a referendum on the ballot at such a late date. But they did agree to discuss the request with state lawmakers in advance of the 2015 legislative session.

We hope the county commission will think twice about encouraging more options for people to waste their money hoping for an easy score. With the offerings at Derby Lane and the Tampa Greyhound Track, and the more hard-core gaming offered at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino east of Tampa, there is no shortage of gambling options in the area.

Adding another that makes it more convenient for someone to lose their paycheck is bad public policy.

Derby Lane says the slots will make them more competitive with the Hard Rock, where the machines number in the thousands and are allowed under an agreement between the state and the Seminole tribe that owns the casinos. The track says it needs the revenue.

A similar referendum request by Derby Lane in 2012 ended when a state Senate bill allowing slots at parimutuel facilities such as Derby Lane failed to pass.

As the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell reports, the owners approached Commissioner Susan Latvala recently about bringing the referendum request back to the board. Latvala says she is against the casino-type gambling but considers slot machines less of a concern.

But that is flawed logic. Gambling is gambling, whether at a high-stakes casino table or on a stool in front of slot machines, which have been called “video crack” for their addictiveness. Because the machines are cheap to play they exploit the poor, who can least afford to gamble away their money.

Derby Lane has increasingly turned to gambling to keep its doors open. The owners appealed to commissioners by saying hundreds employees might lose their jobs if business doesn’t pick up. But commissioners, and state lawmakers, need to consider the corrosive social effects of expanding the gambling options in our communities.

We would prefer gambling be illegal in the state. But lacking that, our elected officials should set policies that contain the vice rather than encourage its expansion.

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