Should slot machines be legalized in Jacksonville?

City Council debates whether issue will be put on November ballot

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Members of the City Council debated Thursday afternoon on whether slot machines should be legalized in Jacksonville.

The City Council said they plan to decide at the end of the month whether the issue will be up for a vote on the November ballot and will vote on it on June 28.

RELATED: Councilman pushes to make slot machines legal in Jacksonville

New4Jax spoke with several people at the BestBet on Monument Road in Jacksonville’s Regency area, and they said legalizing slot machines would be a good thing for Jacksonville.

“It’ll be good,” said Chuck Graham, who supports legalizing slot machines.

BestBet is pushing the City Council to put the issue on the ballot and let the voting public decided whether slot machines are OK. If the public votes "yes," it could bring 2,000 machines to BestBet -- the maximum that would be allowed -- and make it the largest non-tribal facility with slot machines in Florida.

Will Burgos, who supports legalizing slot machines, said he doesn’t think there’s a problem with too much gambling in the city.

“Not at all. If you go there now, it’s not packed to the house. Maybe 50-60 people in there, and it’s a big building,” Burgos said.

But some people said they feel adding slot machines to an area that already allows gambling, such as poker and dog racing, would only hurt the area.

“No, they’ve got enough games in there right now. That would be just more people losing money, more poor people,” said Jeff Kohl, who does not support legalizing slot machines.

At Thursday’s meeting, proponents pointed out that legalizing slot machines would create 1,200 jobs with salaries of roughly $50,000 a year, which would improve the Regency area.

“Crime rate’s way down for that area, economic impact’s big and growing. And certainly this would be more of that for a part of town that really needs it,” said Susie Wiles, BestBet spokesperson.

City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan agreed.

“I do believe this will be good for the district. I’ve been there. I’ve seen safety there. I see the level of community engagement that we’ve had (at) BestBet. So I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing,” Morgan said.

But there is a state Supreme Court case also going on right now that will decide whether local governments such as Jacksonville’s can allow for slot machines, even with a public referendum.

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