TALLAHASSEE Bonita Springs city leaders had their say, now state lawmakers must decide whether to pull the lever on a request for a test run on slot machines at a Southwest Florida dog track.
Bonita Springs officials were in Tallahassee on Wednesday to meet with legislators about a proposal to expand gaming operations at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track. The proposed expansion would allow the track to have slot machines for a two-year trial period.
Lee County voters in November approved a referendum supporting slot machines at the dog track in November, but the state Legislature must pass a bill to allow them to be installed.
The request comes as state lawmakers are reviewing whether to expand gaming operations in the state. At issue is whether an expansion of slot machines would be in violation of a 20-year compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Little concerning gaming is expected to come out of the 2013 legislative session, but that isn’t stopping Bonita Springs leaders. Mayor Ben Nelson has said if the state grants the request, officials could see how an expansion would impact a community.
Nelson on Wednesday said he felt the meetings went well, and was happy legislators took the time to hear the community’s request.
“We’re cognizant of the realities of this particular matter, although we felt it was important enough to explore every option to make sure they knew every option we knew about,” he said.
“We came to an understanding that ... there may not be an opportunity (for slot machines) this year, which is a realistic appraisal, but there is a genuine opportunity for next year.”
Legislators have said the city’s request could jeopardize the revenue sharing agreement it has with the tribe. That agreement allows for “partial but substantial exclusivity” in exchange for revenue sharing. That exclusivity extends to slot machines, and an expansion — even a temporary one — means the state could lose millions of dollars a year.
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who chairs the Senate Gaming Committee, said he spoke briefly with the group a about the proposal, but he said he didn’t expect anything to happen this year. Still, he said the November referendum shouldn’t be discredited.
“They had tremendous creditability with me,” he said. “The referendum was a good start.”
The trip was organized by the Bonita Springs-Estero Development Council, and it was the first time Bonita Springs leaders have traveled to Tallahassee without other Lee County officials.