Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas commission votes against referendum on Derby Lane slot machines

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County voters won't get the chance to weigh in on whether slot machines should be legal at licensed parimutuel operations like Derby Lane.

A motion by Commissioner Susan Latvala to put a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot failed Tuesday by a 6-1 vote. The referendum would have asked voters if they approve allowing existing parimutuels to have slots. Derby Lane in north St. Petersburg is the county's only one.

Latvala made the motion at the request of Derby Lane vice president Richard Winning, who told the board that the vote, though not binding, would send a message to lawmakers as they revamp the state's gambling laws.

Commissioners said they didn't want to rush to the ballot a referendum that would essentially be a straw poll. The commission would have to approve ballot language Aug. 19.

"It's a big discussion and the due diligence is prudent," Commissioner Norm Roche said.

Slots would be a boon to Derby Lane, which, like other parimutuels, is struggling to compete with casinos run by the Seminole Indian tribe, such as the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. An existing compact with the state gives the Seminoles a monopoly on slot machines. Gov. Rick Scott is currently negotiating with the tribe.

The deal would have to be ratified by lawmakers. Republican proponents of gaming have joined with their Democratic counterparts to push for an expansion of gambling options at Florida's parimutuels and to bring destination resort casinos to South Florida.

"We're trying to survive," Winning said before the vote. "We hope by allowing this referendum we can convince the Legislature to let the people make the choice."

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