Hamilton County voters to decide on slots, but might not get them anyway

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Even if Hamilton County voters approve a referendum allowing slot machines in their county during a special election Tuesday, the machines are unlikely to be installed at the Hamilton Downs track in Jasper, writes Gray Rohrer of the Florida Current.

That’s because state regulators at the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering are following anonbinding legal opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi in January stipulating that countywide referendums for slots are not applicable without specific legislative approval.

Ken Lawson, Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which houses the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, asked Bondi for the legal opinion and issued a statement shortly after it was released. The statement said that “it appears that a county referendum to authorize slot machines that is held without specific legislative or constitutional authority will not serve as qualification for a facility to become eligible to apply for a slot machine license. We intend to follow the guidance outlined in the opinion.”

Bondi’s opinion, combined with Lawson’s statement, appears to have scared off pari-mutuel owners looking to add slot machines, at least for now. Although voters in two Panhandle counties, Gadsden and Washington, approved slots during the Jan. 31 presidential preference primary, the owners of the Gretna barrel racing track in Gadsden County and the Ebro greyhound track in Washington County have not applied for a slot machine license with DBPR.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.