Precinct analysis shows Bonita residents solidly behind slot machine proposal

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

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— Bonita Springs voters supported allowing slot machines at the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track at a greater rate than the rest of Lee County voters, a precinct analysis shows.

Tuesday's approval of slot machines, which would be added at the Bonita Springs-based track, is subject to authorization by the Legislature.

Lee County voters approved a referendum to allow slot machines at the Bonita Springs-based track with about 63 percent of voters in favor and 37 percent opposed.

In Bonita Springs, several precincts matched that percentage while three reached about 70 percent approval of the measure.

Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson said he found the results of the precincts in Bonita Springs interesting, but not surprising

"It's pretty indicative that the people in Bonita Springs are more familiar with the operations of the dog track and the effect that it has in the community," he said.

Izzy Havenick, the track's vice president of political affairs, thanked voters for their support.

"We were very pleasantly surprised on how favorable the residents voted," he said.

The precincts in Bonita Springs that were much higher than the Lee County vote as a whole were:

■ Bonita Lions Club, 10346 Pennsylvania Ave., with approval by about 71 percent of voters.

■ Gospel Baptist Church, 24861 Old 41 Road, received approval by about 71 percent.

■ Hope Lutheran Church, 25999 Old 41 Road, received approval by 68 percent.

The lowest percentage of approval in Bonita Springs was 51 percent at Precinct 43 at St. Leo Catholic Church, 28290 Beaumont Road. The other six precincts in Bonita Springs were about average with the rest of Lee County voters.

"If a downtown area is higher, it's reasonable to think that people see this as a benefit for real estate prices," said Ron Pure, chairman of the Taxpayer Action Group of Bonita Springs. "Downtown sees it as a boom."

Pure said he still would prefer a world-class casino instead of slot machines.

The next step is to go state legislators, who have to pass a law allowing slot machines at the track and other locations. If lawmakers approve, Bonita Springs dog track owners would break ground in June and open in summer 2014.

"We promised to build a great entertainment destination there," Havenick said. "The residents in Bonita Springs wanted the jobs and the added tax revenue to the city that this would create."

Track operators have agreed to pay the city of Bonita Springs 1.5 percent of the track's annual slots revenue for the first $250 million the track earns each year. Any amount over $250 million will result in a 2.5 percent cut for the city.

Dog track owners have tentative plans to develop the 99-acre site at the southeast corner of Bonita Beach and Old 41 roads with a 200,000-square-foot clubhouse plus retail, office, night club and restaurant space.

The dog track has estimated it will hire about 500 full-time employees. According to the agreement, a minimum of 40 percent, or 200 of those employees, must be Bonita Springs residents.

About 900 construction jobs will be needed in the first phase.

"I think the entire community is behind this effort and understands the rationale behind it," Nelson said.

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