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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Derby Lane owners want vote on slots

The owners of Derby Lane want Pinellas voters to weigh in on legalizing slot machines.

Derby Lane Vice President Richard Winning has asked Pinellas County commissioners to schedule a referendum this November to allow slots at licensed pari-mutuel facilities like dog and horse tracks. Commissioners may discuss the proposal as soon as Tuesday.

Getting the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot would be only the first hurdle for the dog track on Gandy Boulevard in north St. Petersburg. Even if passed by voters, the measure requires approval by the state lawmakers.

But that could happen in 2015 when the Legislature may conduct a long-awaited overhaul of the state’s gambling laws with the July 2015 expiration of Florida’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

“Chances are there will be an opportunity to get the whole comprehensive gaming situation in Florida looked at,” said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Derby Lane first asked the county to schedule a referendum on slots in February 2012 when a bill legalizing slots at pari-mutuels was filed in the Florida Senate. Commissioners approved placing it on the ballot but the state bill died so the issue never came before voters.

Slot machines are legal in Miami-Dade and Broward counties under a 2004 statewide vote to amend the Florida Constitution. Voters in several other counties including Brevard, Lee and Palm Beach approved local referendums on slots in 2012 but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ruled that those referendums do not trump state law.

Latvala, who has been critical of the gaming compact, said it still makes sense for communities to vote on slots.

“It positions them so that when or if legislators are ready to add slot machines at pari-mutuels then we know the local voters are OK,” Latvala said.

Dog- and horse-race track owners have complained that state laws make it tough for them to compete with casinos and view slots as a way to boost flagging revenues. The Seminole Tribe’s five year agreement with the state gives it a monopoly on offering casino games like blackjack and baccarat and a monopoly on slots at four casinos outside of Broward and Miami-Dade.

In exchange, the tribe pays the state a minimum of $234 million a year.

Seminole Hard Rock Tampa advertises more than 4,500 slot machine games.

A new compact agreement with the Seminoles is being negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott. It would have to be ratified by state lawmakers.

Officials from Derby Lane approached Pinellas Commissioner Susan Latvala, former wife of Jack Latvala, to raise the issue with her fellow commissioners.

The long-time commissioner, who is retiring from office in November, said she is opposed to casino-type gambling but sees slot machines and betting at the dog track as less concerning.

“It’s a public decision; it’s not mine,” she said. “I would support going to a referendum.”

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