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Group fights measure aimed at allowing slots at tracks

A new version of No Casinos Inc., a group that has repeatedly fought off attempts to expand gambling in Florida, will wage war against a measure that could lead to slot machines at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, is chairman of the group, which also includes the state's sheriffs and police chiefs, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Coalition Against the Expansion of Gambling.

"We have a real simple message for you," Johnson said Thursday as the group launched its campaign against Amendment 4. "This is about gambling; it is not about education. Anyone who says this is not about gambling clearly hasn't seen the title of this proposal."

The comment was a direct shot at former Education Commissioner Jim Horne, who announced his support of the slot machine referendum by saying the issue is about providing more money for education. Horne is being paid $100,000 to help run the campaign for the amendment.

If voters throughout the state approve Amendment 4, Broward and Miami-Dade voters will get a chance to decide whether parimutuel facilities in the two counties can install slot machines. The summary of the proposal reads, "The Legislature may tax slot machine revenues, and any such taxes must supplement public education funding statewide."

Floridians have said no to casinos in elections in 1978, 1986 and 1994.

Bradford County Sheriff Bob Milner, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said all 67 sheriffs oppose the amendment because gambling would increase crime and social costs if allowed to expand.

But Earl Bender, chairman of Yes for Local Control, the group of racetracks and casino operators who support the measure, denied there is any connection between increased crime and gambling. Johnson and other opponents are creating "a lukewarm stew of misleading statements and folklore masquerading as facts," Bender said.

Proponents say casino cruises and Indian gaming already exist in various parts of Florida but would be regulated and taxed under the new proposal.

Johnson's response: "When you've already got cancer, more cancer is not better."

On Thursday, the Florida Chamber of Commerce also announced it opposes the gambling proposal.