Opinion

John R. Smith: Slots should join greyhounds in PBC

Palm Beach County’s historic dependence on tourism, farming and construction has served us well. But times change, and the economy is unforgiving. Competition now forces us to look for more sources of revenue and more fuel for the county’s economic engine to maintain quality of life.

In November, voters have an opportunity to bring more entertainment, gaming and economic strength to Palm Beach County. If they’re thinking smart, they will break out the welcome wagon and the brass band for the Palm Beach Kennel Club’s growth plans.

Here’s what you need to know about the slot machine referendum: Pluses are many, negatives are few.

Right now, local residents and tourists must drive to Broward and Miami-Dade counties to play slot machines, snatching revenue and jobs out of Palm Beach County. It results in significant losses to the local economy. There are 15 Seminole and Miccosukee casinos and pari-mutuel facilities to the south and west of us, but nary a one in this county. Doesn’t make economic sense for this to continue.

If the November referendum passes, slot machines will be limited to pari-mutuel facilities in Palm Beach County, and the Kennel Club is the sole location where such machines would be installed. And here’s what’s important: The Palm Beach Kennel Club has been a solid corporate citizen here for 80 years, 42 of them under the ownership of the Rooney family. This is no fly-by-night operation; it employs 550 people and provides an economic impact of over $100 million annually to our community. The Rooneys also own the six-time NFL Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Another big advantage is that tax revenue from slots must be used for funding of public education. This means local schools will benefit. It lessens tax burdens on residents and property owners. Taxes from Kennel Club pari-mutuels and poker games inject more than $3 million each year into Florida’s education coffers, and another $2.2 million is raised here from property taxes and licensing fees. The club now has a $16 million payroll. But get this: If the referendum passes, the county Business Development Board estimates the total future economic impact to be over $9 million annually in taxes and 776 jobs for the county, with an average wage of about $38,947.

Passing this ballot item will allow the county to compete with surrounding counties where slot machines are already approved and generating revenues for their residents.

What about safeguards? The Kennel Club already is heavily regulated, and voluntarily donates substantial revenues to local law enforcement and community projects.

A long list of civic, community and business leaders, organizations and elected officials are already supporting this effort. They see the benefits.

For me, the logic is simple: If slot machines aren’t allowed here, we’re hurting our local economy and losing significant tax revenues and jobs. We need to allow Palm Beach County to stay competitive with Broward and Miami-Dade by leveling the playing field. It’s wrong for only a small number of counties in Florida to have slot facilities, while denying the others. Let the free market flourish, because prosperity blooms where capital flows.

It’s my bet that Palm Beach County voters will decide that they and Florida tourists should be able to spend their entertainment dollars right here in good ole Palm Beach County.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company. He is a frequent columnist for BizPac Review.
John R. Smith

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