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Palm Beach County Commission approves slots on ballot, splits Peanut Island

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In a move to compete with Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the Palm Beach County Commission voted on Tuesday to put the slots issue before voters. Commissioners approved the measure despite opposition from local pastors and citizens who fear an increase in drugs and crime. Commissioner Jess Santamaria was the lone dissenting vote, saying “the end does not justify the means.”

The ballot issue will allow slot machines at a licensed pari-mutuel facility, with the only license currently held by the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Commissioner Karen Marcus said she was opposed to gambling and conflicted in how she should vote.

“You couldn’t ask for a better family,” Marcus said of the Rooney family, which owns the Kennel Club. But she said she didn’t want her values imposed on others, adding that voters should have the opportunity to make that decision.

Commissioner Burt Aaronson said that Palm Beach County already has gambling, since people buy state lottery tickets every day.

“People who want to gamble will go to a place to gamble,” Aaronson said, pointing to constituents who take buses to Fort Lauderdale to take gambling cruises. “You will not stop them.”

Commissioner Steven Abrams reminded the audience that the commission was not creating a “Las Vegas strip,” but was looking to expand a venue already in place.

In other business, the County Commission approved its new district boundaries, but not without one last contentious discussion.

In a string of motions and substitute motions, Peanut Island and Phil Foster Park were juggled between the districts of Marcus and Commissioner Priscilla Taylor. Taylor said that she was insulted by accusations that if she represented Peanut Island, there would be a change toward commercial activities there. Abrams said that people fear commercialization, and the fact was, if any changes were attempted, all commissioners would be concerned and provide equal consideration on the matter.

In what she called a “holiday compromise,” Commissioner Shelley Vana suggested the island be split between the two districts, with half in District 1 and half in District 7. The motion was approved unanimously.


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