Referendum on Casinos? How Can Advocates Stack the Deck?

Sun Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel Article

South Florida voters may get to vote on destination casino plan, lawmaker says

Another state House member predicts Broward voters will vote 'yes' if given the chance

By Nick Sortal, Sun Sentinel

10:20 p.m. EST, December 1, 2011

South Florida voters may get the right to approve or veto destination casinos in the region, one lawmaker pushing for the plan said Thursday.

“I still maintain that there is no need for a referendum and our voters have spoken on the issue,” said state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami. “That said, I'm pragmatic and recognize that there may be political will to add an additional, local referendum for the feel-good “democratic” factor and I'm OK with that reality.”

He predicted the destination casino plan would pass “overwhelmingly” in Miami-Dade County. He made no forecast for Broward County, which is outside his district.

The casino plan, which Fresen and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, proposed as a new state

law in October, would allow three giant Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward. The plan is opposed by existing pari-mutuels like racetracks and dogtracks; the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates its own casinos; Orlando's convention and Disney interests and those philosophically opposed to gambling.

Giving local voters the final say might make

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it easier for some state lawmakers to approve the casino plan. Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, is not a fan of the idea; he said Thursday that “a referendum is just a way for legislators to abdicate their responsibility.” Waldman said he thought Broward voters, if given the chance, would vote in favor of the new casinos.

“Pushing this on Miami-Dade and Broward without another vote is insulting to the voters who approved slots,” Mardi Gras president Dan Adkins said. “They voted on slot machines at limited, fixed, pre-existing gaming facilities, period.”

He also took it a step further, noting that destination casinos could void the Seminoles' compact with the state, so a statewide vote is in order.

Voter referendums have been used before in Florida to settle the issue of whether to permit gambling. First, 50.8 percent of voters statewide in 2004 approved an amendment empowering each county to decide whether it wanted slot machines. Then Broward County voters in 2005 and Miami-Dade voters in 2008 approved allowing the slot machines.

Fresen and Bogdanoff have pointed to those referendums as sufficient legal grounds for creating destination casinos.

Fresen first talked about the referendum idea in response to a Miami Herald editorial board question. Bogdanoff was in committee meetings Thursday afternoon and could not be reached by the Sun Sentinel.