Slots could spread to Indian casinos

An approval of slot machines at parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties could lead to those same slots being installed at the state’s Indian casinos.
Voters who approved allowing Miami-Dade and Broward to consider legalizing slot machines at parimutuels may end up getting more slots than they expected.

Allowing slots here would open the door for Florida’s Indian tribes to install slots at their seven casinos around the state, gaming experts say.

”The bottom line is that, whatever is offered in the state, has to be offered to the tribes,” said Shawn Personeau, spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The approvals also would launch a $140 million construction spree at local racetracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons aiming to inject some Las Vegas-style glitz into their aging operations. Rather than install slots in existing facilities, the parimutuels would build swank additions that include restaurants and other entertainment venues.

These so-called ”racinos” have thrived in the rest of the country. Since Rhode Island pioneered the racino 11 years ago, they have spread to nine other states. While racinos remain a tiny piece of the gaming industry, their revenues are growing faster than at other commercial and Indian casinos, according to a report by the Analysis Group.

That has meant jobs for racino communities. Since slots were approved at a track in Chester, W. Va., the track has added a 258-room hotel, convention center and conference center and spa in addition to slot machines and casino space. Employment at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort has grown to about 1,700 from 342 since slots were approved.

NEW JOBS PROJECTED

Here, studies prepared for pro-slots groups say adding the machines would create 6,000 jobs and bring in $1.27 billion in revenue the first year, a boost that’s sorely needed.

”The horse and dog tracks have been in a long, protracted decline,” said Sebastian Sinclair, president of Christansen Capital Advisors, which studies the gaming industry. “This absolutely boosts tracks.”

It also could benefit the Indian tribes.

For years, the Seminoles have been asking the state for permission to go to Las Vegas style, or Class III, gaming for its six casinos, including the $280 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and another in Coconut Creek, to no avail. The Miccosukees operate one casino, in western Miami-Dade.

The tribes currently have Class II gaming, which includes bingo, poker and electronic machines that resemble slots.

Federal law specifies the tribes have the right to offer similar gaming options to those allowed elsewhere in the state. Therefore, if slot machines are permitted anywhere in Florida, the tribes would be able to negotiate with the state terms of a slot machine agreement, or ”compact,” governing tax rates and other regulations.

If the state refused, a mediator would be called in to dictate the terms, said Alan Meister, who tracks Indian gaming for the Analysis Group in California. Such a scenario took place in Connecticut in the 1990s.

HOW IT STARTED

”This is how Indian gaming started in some states, with some charities offering Las Vegas nights,” Sinclair said. ‘The Seminoles’ case is a good one. It would be in the state’s interest to negotiate.”

The measure to allow slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties first had to pass muster with voters statewide. It did Tuesday. It is now subject to local referendums in each county.

Seminole Tribal Council representative Max Osceola has said that the council, which spent $5.6 million on an ad campaign against Amendment Four, will decide soon if they should oppose passage of the referendums or take a neutral stance in the hope of gaining Class III gaming.

Meanwhile, anti-gambling group No Casinos said Friday that it would not immediately challenge the statewide election outcome, achieved despite a computer glitch that left 78,000 Broward votes uncounted until two days after the election.

LOOKING AT OPTIONS

No Casinos Chairman Randy Johnson said the group has asked Broward officials to keep those votes aside in case it decides to mount a challenge later. “We’re still assessing all our options and piecing together all the facts.”

No Casinos will also work to defeat the referendums, he said. “We may have lost this skirmish, but the war will continue.”

A wholesale expansion of gambling in Florida is exactly what Central Florida fears.

That’s why the Osceola County Commission voted Oct. 11 to contribute $200,000 of its tourist development fund to the No Casinos cause, said commission spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain.

”They want to promote family friendly tourism in the state of Florida,” she said. ‘They thought, `If it’s allowed down south, what’s to stop it coming up here?’ ”

Disney Worldwide Services and the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association each gave $25,000 to No Casinos.

”Historically, our company has been opposed to gambling,” said Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Polak.

It’s too soon to know when South Florida residents will get to decide the issue.

In Miami-Dade, a local vote would have to be a special election, as there are no countywide elections scheduled for 2005. Miami-Dade Mayor-elect Carlos Alvarez said he believes the vote is ”important” but offered no specifics on when the commission might take up the matter. “It should take some priority.”

ON THE AGENDA

Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman has requested the possible scheduling of a slots vote for the March 8 municipal election be placed on the County Commission’s Dec. 7 agenda.

The local referendums would likely pass. Voters from both counties overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment this week.

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