Upping the Ante
After Broward County voters approved Las Vegas-style slot machines at the county's four pari-mutuel locations last year, the state Legislature set regulations on the higher-payout, high-profit machines. The result: A bill authorizing 1,500 slot machines -- half the initial request -- operating 16 hours day. They'll be taxed at 50%.
But gambling proponents say the hefty tax and other restrictions may doom their operation. "This bill was designed to cause failure," says state Sen. Steven Geller, a Democrat from Hallandale Beach. "A lot of people outside of south Florida didn't want these machines in our state."
The real winners, says Geller, may be the state's Indian tribes, which under federal rules may offer any form of gambling permitted elsewhere in the state. Shortly after the slots referendum, the Broward-based Seminole Tribe of Florida requested permission to install the coveted Class III slots at its five south Florida casinos. Those casinos, highly profitable, operate under far fewer restrictions and pay no taxes.
Gov. Jeb Bush, a gambling opponent, is dragging his feet on the request. He says he will negotiate with the Seminoles and other tribes but with the goal of securing restrictions on future gambling initiatives.
That may be hard to do. South Florida's gambling cruise ship industry -- which opens its onboard casinos three miles offshore -- is flourishing. And Miami-Dade's pari-mutuel owners also want a piece of the action. Although county voters narrowly defeated a slots measure a year ago, gambling proponents vow to place it back on the ballot in 2007.