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    Slot machines gain support

    A group working to legalize slot machines at dog and horse tracks is gathering voters' signatures in hopes of putting the issue on the 2002 ballot.

    By ALISA ULFERTS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- A ballot initiative to legalize slot machines at dog and horse tracks has cleared its first hurdle.

    Floridians for a Level Playing Field has gathered enough voters' signatures to qualify for a state review of its ballot question, according to state elections officials.

    The group needs 488,722 signatures before it can ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing individual counties to approve slot machines at existing racing tracks. So far, the state Division of Elections has certified 53,537 signatures, enough to trigger a review by Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

    A spokesman for Butterworth said the attorney general reviews the language in ballot titles to ensure it accurately describes the effects of the proposed changes. Slot machine supporters hope to have the measure on the 2002 ballot.

    Florida voters have rejected casino gambling on the state ballot three times, most recently in 1994, when the state's dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons asked to be among 47 locations licensed as casinos. The measure failed with 62 percent of voters opposed.

    But ballot organizer Daniel K. Adkins, president and chairman of the group backing the slot machine proposal, has said this measure is more narrowly defined than in the past. This time the slot machines would be limited to existing track facilities.

    Adkins' company runs the Hollywood, Fla., greyhound track and a track in West Virginia. Tracks in Broward, Escambia and Miami-Dade counties have donated to the group, which has raised more than $725,000 to date and has spent more than $691,000.

    Some of that money has been spent on signature solicitors in the Tampa Bay area. In Pinellas, 11,000 signatures have been certified by the state. More than 8,100 signatures have passed muster in Pasco and in Hernando, 1,539. None have been certified in Hillsborough or Citrus counties.

    The new ballot question is different from the 1994 casino referendum, which would have allowed "full-scale casino gambling," with roulette wheels and card dealers.

    Two years of polling and focus groups show that voters support slot machines at places where gambling already happens, but they don't want the state "Las Vegas-ed" by new casinos, according to the group. When it filed with the state, the group said the committee would be supporting a "statewide referendum for gaming by county option at pari-mutuel facilities."

    Under Florida law, any machine in which a player inserts money with the possibility of winning money is considered a slot machine.

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