South Florida to Vote on Slot Machines Casinos

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The visions could not be more different. People who want Las Vegas-style slot machines in South Florida insist they will create jobs and pump money into schools. Opponents believe they will transform a family friendly destination into a gambling mecca with more crime and other social ills.

Voters in the state's two most-populous counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, will decide Tuesday whether to allow slot machines at the seven dog and horse racetracks and jai-alai frontons that already have pari-mutuel gambling.

The gambling destinations are lobbying hard for passage, saying the slots will bring thousands of jobs and boost the local economy. They've gotten support from teachers, since they have promised a 30 percent cut of slot revenues for education, meaning perhaps $500 million annually for schools.

Gov. Jeb Bush, a staunch gambling opponent, has accused the slots movement of "seducing the voters with the hollow promise of more education funding." Bush and antigambling groups, including religious conservatives, see slots as a plague that will increase crime and compulsive gambling.

"It's going to be people of moderate income getting in buses with coins in their pocket, showing up and sitting on a stool. And as I understand it, the loss factor for them is 90 percent," Bush said. "This is a bad deal."

Vegas-style slots are "the crack cocaine of slot machines," says Davie Mayor Tom Truex.

Indian casinos and operators of gambling "cruises to nowhere" have helped fund the campaign to block slot machines, fearing competition. Disney World, apparently concerned that slots would harm Florida's image and siphon tourists from theme parks, gave $25,000 to the anti-slots movement last year.

Voters are caught in the middle.

"It's a little confusing," said Carmine Trulli, a retiree and horse player who plans to vote for the gambling measure. "Anything that gives more money to schools and gets more people out of the unemployment lines, well, you've got to think that's good."

Not so, says Joe Fontana, another retiree and a non-gambler from Miami Beach.

"This will create a lot of problems for working families," Fontana said. "I'm leery about all the promises we're hearing turning out to be false promises."

Indian tribes operate Florida's only casinos, but they are restricted to bingo-type slots and low-stakes poker games in which gamblers play against each other and not against the house.

Voters had rejected three gambling expansion plans since the 1970s, but broke with that tradition in November and approved an amendment that allowed residents of the two counties the option of allowing slots at the seven pari-mutuel facilities.

Even if voters approve slot machines, it will be up to state lawmakers to decide how the plan will be enacted, how many slot machines and what types are legal, how they'll be taxed and how long they'll operate daily. Gambling opponents are pushing lawmakers to write tough rules.

Florida is not alone in considering gambling to boost revenue. Maryland lawmakers have voted to legalize slots, but differences between House and Senate versions have not yet been reconciled.