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City Council votes to put slot machine question on November ballot

If approved, slot machines would only be allowed at BestBet

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council voted 18-1 Tuesday night to put a question about whether slot machines should be legalized on the November ballot for voters to decide.

"I was very impressed," said Councilman Aaron Bowman, the sponsor of the bill. "Eighteen to one is a very powerful statement."

Councilman Doyle Carter was the only dissenter. He said he voted against it for personal reasons.

"In the beginning, when I started in '99, I've always voted no on gambling or liquor," Carter said. "(It's) just something I've always done. 

Many council members felt slot machines are a sure-fire way to create jobs, boost tourism and bring money to the city, especially the Arlington area.

Bowman said he's eager for the public to vote in November.

"It's an opportunity. Like I said, I'm all about jobs, bringing jobs to Jacksonville. And these are great jobs, high-paying jobs. They have benefits. The employees there love working there. So they're the kind of jobs that we want. So that was No. 1 and the economic impact to the community was No. 2," Bowman said.

If passed, slot machines would only be allowed at the BestBet facility on Monument Road across from the Regency Mall and would be the only slot machines allowed within 50 miles.

BestBest said adding slot machines would create 1,500 jobs with salaries of roughly $50,000.

News4Jax was told 1.5 percent of the money that the machines take in will go to the city, adding up to an extra $5.7 million a year to fund things like infrastructure improvements. 

Even if the referendum passes in November, the state Supreme Court will likely end up weighing in on whether local governments can expand gambling on their.

Right now, the court is considering a case that will determine whether voters in counties or cities like Jacksonville can overrule state gambling laws and approve slot machines in their own communities, even with a public referendum.

Bowman said the bill gets the city ahead of the game if the state Supreme Court does allow cities to pass their own legislation on slot machines.

"We're watching what the Supreme Court does right now. But we knew that we had another two years to wait to put it on a referendum, so the idea was let's get the voters to speak and say 'Yes' and wait and see what the Supreme Court says. And if the Supreme Court says no, it's going to die. We want at least the chance to be ready," Bowman said.

If the court decides cities can make that decision, the 2,000 slot machines at BestBet in Arlington would make the facility the largest non-tribal facility with slot machines in Florida.

The court is expected to make its decision later this summer.