Lee County to put slot machines to a vote

Should slot machines be installed at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track?

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Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track

10601 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, FL

— Lee County voters may decide whether to install slot machines at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track.

County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to let the people weigh in the decision for slot machines being installed that the greyhound race track at Bonita Beach and Old 41 roads.

The issue is expected to go to referendum and be on the Nov. 6 ballot but under one condition: All legal costs and costs associated with law enforcement, infrastructure and human resources be absorbed by the race track and not fall on the county's or city's shoulders.

The county attorney must meet with the city of Bonita Springs and determine a date for a public hearing, which is required before it can go to referendum.

"We're encouraged and look forward to educating the residents on this," said Isadore Havenick, owner of the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound track, who spoke at the meeting.

Havenick said at the commission meeting the track will absorb all costs associated with this venture. He also said he plans to share 3 percent of the profits exclusively from the slot machines between both the county and the city evenly.

Bonita Springs Councilwoman Martha Simons, Mayor Ben Nelson, City Attorney Audrey Vance and City Manager Carl Schwing also came in support of the agenda item.

"We are pleased the Board of County Commissioners followed the city's resolution and hope the County Attorney's Office will proceed properly," Vance said.

Andrea Fraser, attorney at the county attorney's office, raised concerns about the legalities of the board making such a decision.

With a bill sitting in the state Legislature regarding gaming, any decision made could trump a decision the county makes.

"The attorney general is against gaming," Fraser said. "And we could get sued for putting this on the ballot."

She suggested commissioners wait until the Legislature makes a decision. But that could mean slot machines would never be allowed at the track and Havenick wanted to ensure that commissioners make a decision before the legislative session ends.

"The first step is getting the public's opinion," said Leland Taylor, attorney for the track. "What happens in Tallahassee and the opinion of the Attorney General is the next level. Getting the commissioners to agree to a referendum was the fist big hurdle."

Commissioner Brian Bigelow initially said he would vote for the bill, but after learning of the legal concerns, changed his view. Commissioner Frank Mann also dissented, stating he is against gaming and fears the potential of a casino eventually coming to Bonita Springs.

"It's a quality-of-life issue," Mann said. "I'm concerned about the ripple effect. What happens down the road?"

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