ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Johns County commissioners pulled a proposal from their Tuesday agenda on a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to allow gambling, including slot machines, at a hotel, restaurant and bar proposed for State Road 207, just off Interstate 95.
Bestbet, the same company that hopes Jacksonville voters will approve slot machines at its Jacksonville poker room in a November referendum, was behind the St. Johns County proposal, but told commissioners it was not ready to go forward with the proposal. The county attorney, Pat McCormack, said he wasn't sure if a lack of community support might have been a factor in that decision.
"The majority of people, I would say, are against it," Dist. 3 Commissioner Bill McClure said Monday. "My research has shown that gambling facilities work in areas that are economically depressed. However, St. Johns County is not economically depressed."
Bestbet spokesperson Susie Wiles said Bestbet wanted the people of St. Johns County to have the chance to decide if they wanted slot machines in the county.
"It became clear to us that (it) was not going to happen. And hence the withdraw," Wiles said. "The request was not to ask the commissioners to weight in on the project. The request was to ask the voter what their opportunity was. Anytime you deny that type of thing, I'm not sure it's fair or right."
The company's plan was to give 1.5 percent of revenue from the slot machines to go to the county. Bestbet projected that the facility would generate about $330 million in 2020, its first full year of operation.
The item cannot be brought back to the commission's agenda for the rest of the year, McCormack said, because the commissioners did not want the community to feel like this was going to be an on again, off again process.
Jacksonville is going forward with a ballot proposal this fall asking voters to approve slot machines at Bestbet's existing location on Monument Road in Arlington.
"Six other counties do have it on the ballot this election cycle. It's going well. We won't know. We will look to Duval, where the City Council did put it on the ballot. It's just sort of a shame that St. Johns voters won't get the same opportunity," Wiles said.
The whole concept of slot machines outside of counties where they already exist is pending a ruling of the Florida Supreme Court.
"I think, at this point, with the uncertainty in the Florida Supreme Court, it was probably prudent to not call the question to bring it forward at this time," McCormack said.