The discussion Tuesday is for the Board of County Commissioners to determine whether it will advertise and hear a proposed ordinance allowing for a countywide referendum for Slot Machine Gaming in St. Johns County in a proposed location in the northeast corner of I-95 and SR-207. In the next-to-the-last item on Tuesday’s fairly lengthy agenda, the Board may hold the hearing on the proposed ordinance and referendum, modify the proposed ordinance and referendum, or not hold the hearing at all.
But, there’s a wrinkle. The state’s gambling agreement with the Seminole Indian tribe only allows slot machines at non-tribe facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 to allow slots specifically in those two counties.
Since that time, slot machine referendums like the one being considered in St Johns County on Tuesday, have also been approved by voters in Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, Washington and Gadsden counties. However, when Creek Entertainment in Gretna went to get their slot machine permit for Gadsden County, the Florida Attorney General’s Office said “no”, arguing that the Legislature never intended for a local referendum alone to decide where slot machines are allowed.
The St Johns County Board of County Commissioners previously voted (Resolution 2012-25) to authorize the Supervisor of Elections to distribute the same, or substantially the same, question four-years ago. Then Florida Attorney General issued AGO 2012-01 providing the opinion that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is not authorized to issue a slot machine license to a pari-mutuel facility in a county which holds a county-wide referendum to approve slot machines, absent a further statute or constitutional provision authorizing such. So, by its own act, the commission repealed Resolution 2012-25 in Resolution 2012-225 before the issue came before the voters.
The Gretna, FL case in Gadsden County is in front of Florida’s Supreme Court right now with a decision expected this summer. Until that decision comes down, other than in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the county-based referendums are in limbo. So, even if the St Johns County Commissioners approve the request Tuesday, and the item is placed on the November ballot, the ultimate approval for licenses is still tied to the outcome of the Gadsden County case currently before the Florida Supreme Court.
If the idea is going to be able to clear all the deadlines to be heard by voters in St Johns County this year, the commission is going to have to reach consensus quickly. The second hearing and enactment of the ordinance is tentatively scheduled for August 2, 2016, according to the published agenda in the office of the Clerk of Court.
STEPS TO ENACTMENT:
- Section 125.66, F.S., requires a ten (10) day notice for the Board to consider enacting the proposed ordinance
- Proposed enactment hearing is August 2, 2016.
- Absolute deadline to provide materials to the Supervisor of Elections is prior to September 1, 2016.
- Section 125.66, F.S., requires a certified copy to the Secretary of State within 10 days of adoption.
- Provide certified copy of ordinance and ballot language to Supervisor of Elections.
- Section 100.343, F.S., a referendum must be noticed at least 30 days prior to the election.
- The advertisement must run at least twice, once in the fifth week and once in the third week prior to the week in which the referendum is to be held.
- November 8, 2016 – General election held.
WHAT WILL THE QUESTION LOOK LIKE ON YOUR BALLOT?
REFERENDUM TO AUTHORIZE SLOT MACHINE GAMING IN LICENSED PARI-MUTUEL FACILITY LOCATED IN ST. JOHNS COUNTY
Shall slot machines be authorized within a licensed pari-mutuel facility located on a parcel of at least 30 acres, with frontage on Interstate 95, near the northeast corner of State Road 207 and Interstate 95 in St. Johns County, in accordance with applicable provisions of the Florida Statutes, subject to the restrictions of state law and limited to persons 21 years of age and older?
YES (TO AUTHORIZE)
NO (TO NOT AUTHORIZE)
Additionally the proposal is for the County, by a separate agreement, to receive 1.5% of the gross slot machine revenues.
Organized July 14, 1957 as the Colony Club of Boca Raton, Inc., the company has been known as Bayard Raceways, Inc., since March 30, 1965. The facility is currently located at 6322 Racetrack Road, St Johns, FL 32259.
Chairman, Secretary, and Director, 65-year-old Mary Carr Patton, whose father J.J. Patton was a founder of the racetrack until his death, and 50-year-old President and Director, Jamie Claude Shelton, whose father-in-law, 73-year-old attorney, Howard I Korman, still serves as Chief Executive Officer and Director, are making their own “bet”.
If the referendum is cleared by the Board, and if approved on the November ballot, Bayard Raceways, Inc., will exercise options on a more than 30-acre site along I-95 at SR-207 north of the existing Flea Market to build a completely new off-track-betting, simulcast, poker room, slot machine parlor and even a new hotel; although the number of rooms has not been released.
The result would lead to the closing of the aging facilities on Racetrack Road; probably to the pleasure of residents suffering already over-congested roads as they try to get to their homes, shopping, and work.
In our follow-up next week, we will report on the financial connections between Korman, his family of businesses who regularly contribute to the political campaigns of the county commissioners who must decide this issue, the St Johns County sheriff, and other stakeholders. What effect has the money had on this decision?