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League Of Women Voters Says Yes To Gambling, Dog Racing Amendments; BestBet Says No

BestBet Jacksonville.
BestBet Jacksonville.

When Florida voters head to the polls next month they’ll be faced with a slew of amendments, and two of them, three and 13, could determine the fate of gambling and greyhound racing in the state.

BestBet Jacksonville has come out in opposition to both of those amendments, but the League of Women Voters of Florida is urging voters to say yes.

Amendment No. 3: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Amendment No. 3 would essentially take power away from the state legislature when it comes to gambling and put it solely in the hands of voters. Under current law, the legislature and voters both have the power to authorize expansions of casino gambling in Florida.

Amendment 3.
Amendment 3.

If the amendment passes, it would categorize card games, casino games and slot machines as casino gambling and it would require anyone who wanted to build a casino or expand their gambling facility to get hundreds of thousands of signatures to get it on the ballot where it would then have to be approved by Florida voters.


“While it purports and speaks to voter control, understand that that’s a statewide control, and at a 60 percent level in the future for any future gambling that were to occur in the state of Florida,” said Jamie Shelton, President of BestBet Jacksonville. “So what it does is it takes away local voter control. It takes away the voices from the communities and makes it a statewide issue.”

Shelton believes this issue shouldn’t be in the Florida constitution to begin with, saying it should be decided by the state legislature.

But Michele Levy with the League of Women Voters of Florida (LOWV) thinks it should be up to voters.

“What we have now is a situation in which we allow the Tallahassee politicians to determine who can gamble, who can’t,” she said. “And you know there’s millions of dollars in political contributions that come from casino interests looking to expand in Florida, and this takes the money out of it. It really leaves it up to the voters to decide if gambling is a good idea.”

Shelton said if this amendment were to pass it would have a serious impact on his business and the Jacksonvillians he employs.

“It would make it impossible for facilities like mine to ever expand,” he said. “I’m talking about just adding product into our facilities, where if you wanted to play, say blackjack, or to add slot machines to our facility that voters approved here in Duval County two years ago. That would be nearly impossible to ever occur again.”

And, according to Shelton, BestBet would eventually be forced to remove some of the card games that are already being played there.

“If it were to pass, existing card games that we play in our facilities now will eventually go away because the Seminoles and Disney will bring suit to have those taken away,” he said.

Plus, Shelton said it would result in the loss of about 130 local jobs.

Levy says the LOWV is opposed to gambling in general, but specifically when it comes to taxation.

“The League of Women Voters has always held the position that we are really opposed to gambling as a means of collecting taxes,” she said. “We think it’s a regressive kind of tax because it taxes those people who usually can afford it least. And I know that sounds like kind of a social work aspect of it, but gambling really does impact people who can’t afford it the most. But that has always been our position. So we have always been opposed to gambling. And what this [amendment] does, basically, is it makes it more difficult to have casino gambling.”

According to Shelton, tax revenue from around the state on card games that would be impacted by Amendment No. 3 is around $8 million a year.

Amendment 13: Ends Dog Racing

Amendment 13 would put an end to commercial dog racing that involves wagering by 2020, “with the assumption being that if you can’t bet on dog racing, that would be the end of dog racing,” Levy said.

Amendment 13.
Amendment 13.

Sunshine State News reports that the costs of regulating the greyhound racing industry exceed the tax revenue generated by dog tracks and state reports show that the greyhound racing industry saw a 50 percent decrease in revenue from a decade ago.

Levy doesn’t think there’s any economic benefit to maintaining the industry. Shelton may not agree with that sentiment, but he says it is a dying industry.

“It’s a VCR product in an iPhone world,” Shelton said.

According to the LOWV, if amendment 13 were to pass the state would lose about $1 million a year in taxes and fees.

The state’s 12 greyhound tracks employ about 3,000 Floridians. Shelton said BestBet has about 700 employees and around 300 of them work at its Orange Park dog track. If this amendment were to pass, most of those people working in greyhound tracks would lose their jobs.

“It’s an unfortunate thing, but I think they understand that we’re in an economy now where, according to our governor, there are plenty of jobs,” said Levy. “And hopefully they’ll be able to get other jobs, better jobs.”

Both Shelton and Levy agree these issues shouldn’t be in the Florida constitution, but Levy said the state Legislature has proven, on both issues, to be incapable of making a decision or they’re too willing to sell their vote.

“The league believes that we have such garbage in our constitution. You know we have pregnant pigs in our constitution, we’re pretty soon going to have vaping in our constitution, do we really need to have dogs in our constitution? No,” Levy said. “So if the legislature would have taken action and passed a law, that would have been great! And that’s really the way to do it, but they’ve never made any move to do that. So, based upon that, the only way to get it done is a constitutional amendment. It would be nice to think that we could just do it with legislation.”

Shelton, on the other hand, said the constitution “should not be used, under any circumstances, to deal with legislative issues such as vaping, or fracking or even gambling.”

“And even though gambling’s been put in the constitution in years past, I think we’ve learned lessons on many fronts,” he said. “Just because we’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean that we need to be doing it again going forward.”

Special Projects Producer Brendan Rivers joined WJCT News in August of 2018 after several years as a reporter and then News Director at Southern Stone Communications, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Daytona Beach area.