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City Council President Greg Anderson, left, handed out several year-end awards Tuesday evening to his colleagues, including the Charles E. Webb Award to Joyce Morgan and the President's Award to Jim Love. Morgan received the award for her community ou...
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 29, 201612:00 PM EST

Slots referendum will be on November ballot

by: David Chapman

A sales tax extension won’t be the only big-money issue for voters to decide in the next few months.

City Council on Tuesday decided to let voters make a decision on whether slot machines should come to Duval County. Doyle Carter was the lone opposition for the vote, which had no discussion by members.

It’s a move that has officials with the city and bestbet Jacksonville poker room seeing dollar signs.

Up to 2,000 slot machines could be installed at the Arlington facility — the only eligible facility in the county — with 1.5 percent of the game’s gross revenue going to the city. An economic impact estimate provided by advocates of expanding the gaming shows $5.7 million going to the city annually. In addition, it would add 1,500 direct jobs, 1,300 indirect jobs and $123 million in annual payroll to the area.

For gaming officials like Howard Korman, CEO of Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, it would mean millions more in revenue.

However, the council vote is just a start. Voters must still approve it in the November general election that should have a turnout closing in on 90 percent.

Maybe more importantly, the state Supreme Court would have to side with Gadsden County to allow slot machines there.

Gadsden successfully passed a referendum after the Legislature amended the law in 2009, but a state department denied the application.

Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington counties are others that have passed similar ballot initiatives and await a court decision. Broward and Dade counties have slot machines. So do three Seminole Tribe casinos.

Other action from Tuesday’s meeting:

• A rezoning for Engine 15 to bring a brewery and taproom on Myrtle Avenue received a little pushback regarding the waiving of a liquor license distance requirement. Council members Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown wanted to see outreach to the churches and neighbors before proceeding, but district representative Garrett Dennis wanted to move ahead. Dennis said one of the churches sought to have a historic park given to it for support of the deal, but he flatly rejected the notion. Instead, Dennis said the project represented economic development and he would not “sell out” to any particular group. He “absolutely” wanted to vote on the issue and 14 other council members agreed. It passed 15-4, with Brown, Gaffney, Reggie Brown and Al Ferraro against.

• “Project Grace” received the go-ahead. The unnamed engineering firm in North Jacksonville wants to add 54 jobs at an average wage of $66,000 to expand and stay in town. It would retain its 30 employees and invest an additional $2.1 million to cover expansion costs. In return, the city and state would provide close to $450,000 of taxpayer dollars for the deal.

• The promoters of popular rock shows The Big Ticket and Welcome to Rockville will receive reimbursements for shortcomings at Metropolitan Park. The Big Ticket in December was contracted to use the stage of the Downtown venue, but damage to the canopy rendered it unsafe. The promoters spent close to $96,000 to construct a temporary stage, which the city will pay back.

• Three years in the making, the city’s economic development policies were updated. The update offers 29 types of incentives, 25 of which apply to anywhere in the city. The last four relate to economically distressed areas as defined by census tracts, however there were talks about tweaking those in the future. Some areas that have historically been distressed aren’t included or, for example, are divided by a street.

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