A new piece of legislation seeking to get a permit for a “countrywide referendum” in Gadsden County was filed in North Florida by local lawmaker. The referendum that is sought to be held is aimed at checking the local citizens’ opinion on whether or not slot machine gambling at should be officially allowed at the pari-mutuel horse racing facility located in the City of Gretna.
Ramon Alexander, who is a Democrat and representative of Gadsden and part of Leon County, filed the bill called HB 1111 on Tuesday, right on time for the new 2018 Legislative Session that is set to start over the upcoming week.
The chances of the bill to pass are still seen as a long shot, especially considering the fact that the House, currently controlled by the Republican Party, has already opposed to gambling expansion in the region. On the other hand, this is not the first attempt of Gretna and Gadsden County, which have been seeking to add slots machines to the gambling options offered there. According to the newly-filed bill, some unique economic development challenges are offered by the County.
As mentioned above, this has not been the first attempt of the County to get permission to legalize slot machines and expand its gambling landscape. Last year, the Florida Supreme Court made a unanimous ruling against the afore-mentioned race track and gambling and betting facilities aimed to be located in seven other counties which had previously passed referendums for slots permits. According to the 2017 ruling of the Florida Supreme Court, no authority is granted with the powers to regulate slot machine gaming in local counties under state gambling law.
Still, the court’s ruling was limited to non-charter counties, and Gadsden does not have a charter. Previously, the county passed a slots referendum in 2012. The newly-filed bill came as a respond to the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that the referendum held more than half a decade ago had not been specifically authorized by local Legislature.
Reactions to the Newly-Filed Bill
The Executive Director of No Casino organization, Paul Seago, commented on the newly-filed bill and revealed that the organization had a number of concerns related to the proposed piece of legislation. According to No Casino, such a bill violated the Florida Constitution, under which casino gambling expansion in the state is not allowed unless it is backed with a statewide vote. Furthermore, the organization claims that the bill would violate the state’s compact with the local Seminole Tribe, which would put gambling revenue estimated to millions of dollars in danger.
As previously reported by Casino Guardian, currently it is the Seminole Tribe of Florida which has the exclusive rights for offering slots. According to No Casinos organization, the violation of the compact would lead to massive reduction of the revenue portion paid to the state by the Seminole Tribe in return to their exclusivity rights.
The city manager of Gretna, Antonio Jefferson, on the other hand, backed the permission of slots saying they were to revive the economy of the rural area. Currently, Gadsden features a large poverty rate estimated to 20%, with population of about 46,000.