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Miami-Dade Hispanics took major role in rejecting slots proposal
A turnaround by Hispanic voters, many of whom had previously supported a gambling measure in November, led the way to defeat for the slot machine referendum in Miami-Dade County.
A review of election data Wednesday showed that only 41 percent of voters in heavily Hispanic precincts approved of slots, while in heavily black precincts, including the Overtown and Liberty City areas, 55 percent of voters approved.
In heavily white precincts, 48 percent of voters approved it, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel review showed.
As a result, the measure to put slot machines at Flagler Dog Track, Miami Jai-Alai and Calder Race Course failed by more than 3 percentage points.
White voters approved the measure in the affluent north Miami-Dade communities of Golden Beach, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach and Bal Harbour, all a short drive from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale.
Only about 14 percent of voters cast ballots in Miami-Dade, but in many precincts only about 100 votes separated yes voters from no voters.
As a general rule Miami-Dade's slots vote broke down along racial and ethnic lines. That was particularly true in Hispanic neighborhoods, where appeals by Gov. Jeb Bush on Spanish-language radio against the proposal swayed many voters, particularly his Cuban-American supporters.
In the days leading up to the election, the governor took his campaign to Spanish-language radio and those stations heated up with hosts and callers issuing fervent warnings that slot machines would lead to the community's decay.
"I'm really proud of my community for saying that they don't want this as part of the future of their community," Bush, a longtime Miami-Dade resident, said in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
In November, Hispanic voters were more in favor of the constitutional amendment that allowed Tuesday's referendum, said Florida International University political science professor Kevin Hill.
"Jeb single-handedly turned around the Hispanic vote," he said.
Many voters apparently worried that slot machines would lead to full-fledged casinos in Miami-Dade, which they feared could increase crime and bring other economic and social ills to their doorstep. That and distrust of the campaign that promised the machines would bring more money to schools and more jobs to the region contributed to its failure, observers said, even as voters in neighboring Broward County approved slots at four facilities there.
"I'm not supporting the slots and I wouldn't mind seeing the lottery end also," said Miami-Dade voter Maria Alonso. "I don't believe that the money is going to education and that the job excuse is true."
The vote could also indicate the direction Dade voters want tourism and economic development to take in their county, said George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami. Some voters believe casino-style gambling could bring single tourists interested in gambling, drinking and carousing, rather than family-oriented tourists, he said.
"They don't want to attract that kind of tourism," Gonzalez said. "They don't want this to become another Las Vegas or Atlantic City."
The tourism model in Miami-Dade, which relies on tourists spending money on local businesses, is different from areas that rely on gambling tourism, Gonzalez said. Money spent on gambling establishments tends to go into banks or leave the community, he said, and by rejecting slots voters might be indicating that they want tourism dollars reinvested in the county.
"For a place like South Florida, it does not seem to be a good development approach," he said.
Slots proponents touted the fact that the constitutional amendment calls for state tax revenue from the machines to be used to supplement funding for state schools. The Legislature will determine how much to tax the machines and what types of machines to allow.
Pari-mutuel executives and their supporters plan to bring the issue back before voters in two years. They were optimistic that their facilities could hang on until then, even if Broward locations have the competitive edge of slot machines.
"I think that there were people in Miami-Dade County who just did not understand our message," said Fred Havenick, owner of Flagler Dog Track. "I think that there was doubt that was raised. I personally feel the doubt really wasn't there, but [voters] felt that there were questions that had not been answered. In two years, those questions will be answered."
Staff Writers Mark Hollis, Ginelle G. Torres, Sarah Talalay and Staff Researcher John Maines contributed to this report.
Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5007.