JACKSONVILLE – This November, voters in Jacksonville will have the chance to decide whether they want to allow for the legalization of slot machines in the city.
Jacksonville City Council voted 18-1 on June 27 to put the issue on the ballot for this coming election. Councilman Doyle Carter dissented on the vote.
“It was a good feeling to have such strong support from my colleagues,” Councilman Aaron Bowman told the Florida Record. Bowman was the sponsor of the bill.
“It shows me that my strong feelings and research were validated by some of the strongest critics in Jacksonville,” he said.
If residents vote to allow for slot machines in Jacksonville, the only place they will be allowed is at the BestBet gaming facility on Monument Road. The machines would also be the only slot machines allowed within 50 miles.
If the proposed 2,000 slot machines go into the facility, it would make the BestBet facility the largest non-tribal business with slot machines in the state.
Bowman said the possibility of slot machines coming to Jacksonville is a good thing for several reasons.
“We have a significant number of people that travel out of the area for playing slots,” he said. Bowman added that it will also offer another form of entertainment for Jacksonville residents.
Additionally, it will bring jobs to the area, he said.
“It will create over 1,000 direct jobs for our residents at a wage above our county average,” Bowman said.
He said the city should also benefit from people traveling to Jacksonville from out-of-town to play slots.
Bowman said BestBet is proposing a 1.5 percent share of receipts from slots, which will go into the city’s general fund budget.
Most of Bowman’s constituents are in favor of legalizing slots, he said.
“There have been a few against, but I believe only one of those was a constituent,” he said. “I’ve been surprised how many people have thanked me, saying they currently travel to play slots,” he said.
If, in November, voters are in favor of legalizing slot machines, the city will have to wait on the Supreme Court of Florida for its final ruling.
Six other counties in the state have already passed a referendum supporting slots, but the state has not yet issued any licenses.
“That position has been challenged and is now being heard by the State Supreme Court,” Bowman said.
He said he thinks the court will likely support the position that will allow all counties in Florida to have slots if so desired.
The court is considering whether voters in counties or cities can supersede state gaming laws and approve slot machines within their own areas with a public referendum.
Once the State Supreme Court rules to legalize slots, Bowman said it will be up to BestBet to get the equipment, hire employees and train them.
If legalized, Bowman said economic analysis of revenues could provide an estimated $5.7 million per year to the city’s general fund budget.
“The money will go a long way in making Jacksonville a better and safer city,” Bowman said.