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    Greyhound Racing JACKPOT FOR DADE SLOTS
    Posted byadmin on Thursday, January 31 @ 13:17:44 EST
    Contributed by admin

    Posted on Wed, Jan. 30, 2008
    BY AMY DRISCOLL
    Slot machines are better the second time around, apparently.
    Miami-Dade County voters gave a resounding yes to slots at the county's dog and horse tracks and jai-alai fronton Tuesday, reversing their 2005 opposition to the new form of gambling.

    Miami-Dade will join Broward County and the Seminole Tribe in offering Las Vegas-style slots, perhaps pushing South Florida closer to a future as a gambling destination.

    At Flagler Dog Track, pro-slots forces celebrated a win that their group, Yes for a Greater Miami-Dade, spent more than $6 million to secure.



    ''This is the happiest, greatest day of my life,'' said Isadore Havenick, a vice president for Flagler Dog Track. ``We've worked so hard for years. This is all we've talked about. . . . I feel like we won the Super Bowl.''

    In 2005, Miami-Dade voters said no to slots by 52 percent, while Broward County's voters said yes by about 57 percent. Three horse and dog tracks in Broward now boast slot machines, while Miami-Dade's parimutuel industry has struggled to stay afloat.

    The vote means the owners of Flagler, Calder Race Course and Miami Jai-Alai will be allowed to install up to 2,000 slot machines each.

    Flagler's owners have already said they'll plow $80 million to $100 million into renovations, including a casino and an outdoor amphitheater.

    Miami Jai-Alai also may undergo changes. It has a contract giving St. Louis-based Isle of Capri casino company first right to negotiate to buy the jai-alai fronton. Isle already owns The Isle at Pompano Park, a Broward harness track and casino, and casinos in The Bahamas.

    For the no-slots groups -- more fragmented and less monied -- Tuesday's results came as a sad conclusion to a short campaign.

    ''They started as far back as November,'' said Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who spearheaded one of the most high-profile groups, called Truth for Our Community. ``We started two weeks ago.''

    Robaina initially said he opposed the measure for one reason: because it excluded Hialeah Park racetrack. The shuttered but famous track might have been able to reopen if it had been eligible for slot machines, he said.

    Robaina later broadened his opposition to include concerns about gambling addiction, alleged abuse of greyhounds in racing and skepticism about the promised economic and educational benefits from gambling taxes in Miami-Dade. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Sen. Bob Graham also lent their names to the group.

    Bush, credited with defeating the measure in Miami-Dade in 2005, voiced radio ads in English and Spanish that said ``casino operators will make millions exploiting the poorest among us. We will live with the increased crime and addiction that casinos bring.''

    Robaina said the anti-casinos group did all it could with little time and money. ''I personally still think it's a bad deal for the county. Time will tell,'' he said.

    In the campaign's last week, the pro-slots side blanketed TV and radio with last-minute ads seeking to reverse negative voter perceptions from 2005.

    The opposition -- which included a coalition of Christian conservatives and animal protection advocates -- sent out pleas to defeat the measure on grounds both economic and moral.

    In the last few days, a new group, calling itself the Miami-Dade Animal Rescue League and financed by a $350,000 contribution from the U.S. Humane Society, e-mailed ads to thousands of likely no voters showing a greyhound with a gun to its head.

    Another ad from the group asserted that former NFL star Michael Vick, who sponsored dog fighting, would vote for the slots if he could.

    ''Financially, we were outnumbered 10 to 1. We had to resort to using methods that would get our message across to the voters,'' said founder Eduardo Triana.

    House Speaker Marco Rubio spent the day at Hialeah's Milander Auditorium, urging voters to sign a property tax petition -- but staying neutral on the slots race.

    ''I have a personal, moral obligation to oppose gambling, but I don't think it's my job to impose that on people,'' he said. ``If someone decides they want to put their hard-earned money into a machine that's going to take it away from them, they have every right to do that. . . . I think gambling preys on the poor, it preys on the elderly and it preys on the working class.''

    At the polls, some families were mixed on the issue.

    At St. Richard Catholic Church in Palmetto Bay, Van and Susan Olp were united on the presidential primary -- they voted for Mitt Romney.

    But they couldn't agree on slots.

    ''I voted against, although my husband might be mad to hear it,'' said Susan Olp, a homemaker. ``We should keep it limited to where we have it.''

    Van Olp, a businessman, disagreed: ``If somebody wants to play the slots, they can play them.''

    Miami Herald writers Patricia Mazzei and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.



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