Voters to decide on slot machines at Lee Co. dog track

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Nov. 6 referendum will let Lee County voters decide whether to allow slot machines at the Bonita Springs-based Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track.

Greyhound track operators want voters to approve the ballot measure. Bonita Springs officials have received four emails in the past three months from residents who opposed the addition of slot machines.

“Don’t be fooled by the money offered,” Roy Hyman said in a Sept. 12 email sent to council members. “It’s never enough to make up for the suffering and unfulfilled promises that gambling brings.”

The city also received two emails from supporters, including the Bonita Springs-Estero Economic Development Council.

Even if voters approve slot machines, state legislators still would have to pass a law allowing slot machines at the track and at other locations.

Track operators have agreed to pay the city 1.5 percent of the track’s annual slots revenue of the first $250 million the track earns each year. Any amount over $250 million will result in a 2.5 percent cut for the city.

“We are just waiting for the election results,” City Manager Carl Schwing said.

Dog track owners have tentative plans to develop the 99-acre site at the southeast corner of Bonita Beach and Old 41 roads with a 200,000-square-foot clubhouse plus retail, office, nightclub and restaurant space.

The dog track has estimated it will hire about 500 full-time employees. According to the agreement, a minimum of 200 of those employees must be Bonita Springs residents.

“We hope that the residents of Lee County support us in this measure because we would love to be able to create a new entertainment destination in Bonita Springs, create hundreds of new jobs and create a new, dedicated revenue source for both Lee County and the city of Bonita Springs,” said Izzy Havenick, the track’s vice president of political affairs.

About 900 construction jobs will be needed in the first phase.

“We plan on doing everything with locals,” Havenick said.

If lawmakers approve, dog track owners would break ground in June and open in the summer of 2014.

During a recent Bonita Springs City Council meeting, Lee County sheriff’s Capt. Kathy Rairden said she didn’t expect to see a major increase in crime if slots are added.

Schwing said it would be premature for the city to say what would be done to prevent an influx of new crime.

“We need to find out what the voters think,” he said.

Tadayuki Hara, associate dean of finance and administration and associate professor at the University of Central Florida, said in an email the economic impact of casinos to the hosting region is undeniably positive.

“It is an entertainment business in the hospitality industry, and with proper planning, it can be a beneficial business which can spread out the benefit to a local host community,” said Hara, who has worked with other communities looking to add American Indian casino developments.

Ron Pure, chairman of the Taxpayer Action Group of Bonita Springs, said he predicts the referendum will pass because other county residents aren’t as concerned as Bonita residents about the benefits and burdens of adding slot machines at the track.

However, Pure said, Bonita Springs residents should have voted first since they are the host city.

“Whether or not we get slot machines, frankly, I would be interested in having a first-class casino operation and a resort facility,” Pure said.

Sharon Harrington, Lee County’s supervisor of elections, said many voters will skip the issue because of the length of the ballot.

“The county amendment is the very last thing on the ballot,” she said. “If everyone looks at the amendments … that amendment is on the very end of that.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.