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Voters to decide on allowing slot machines at Bonita Springs’ Greyhound Track

By Staff | Aug 11, 2012

In November, Lee County voters will decide whether they want to allow slot machines at the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs.

The referendum on the Nov. 6 general election ballot would authorize slot machine gaming at only that facility via a county ordinance. Earlier this year, the Lee County Commission approved putting the referendum on the ballot.

Isadore Havenick, whose family owns the Bonita facility, spoke Friday about the referendum at the Cape Coral Council for Progress’ monthly meeting. He explained that the track is located on 100 acres at the entrance to Bonita.

“We want to develop the whole property,” Havenick said, adding that city officials are hoping for a convention space to be included in the plans.

The family is aiming for an all-around entertainment venue to include restaurants and bars, possibly concerts – more than just gaming.

“It will be a huge project,” Havenick said. “We want to be creative and fun.”

If voters approve the November referendum, his family will kick start the expansion by installing slot machines at the facility. Phase one is estimated to cost $80 million to $90 million and should create 900 construction jobs.

The family hopes to start construction around March and anticipates being open within 18 months. Once completed, the project will create 500 new jobs.

“We’re basing everything off the project we did in Miami,” he said, adding that the estimates are conservative and he thinks they will be higher.

Havenick’s family also owns the Magic City Casino, which added slots after the state OK’d slot machine gaming in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Vice president of the Magic City Casino, Havenick explained that the first job fair would be open to Bonita Springs residents only. The second job fair would be for Lee County residents only in an effort to help those in the community.

“It’s about local residents getting a first crack at it,” he said.

With the installation of the slot machines, 1.5 percent of the gross revenue made at the facility would go to Lee County and the city of Bonita. According to Havenick, only the state is permitted to tax on slots under Florida’s laws.

“We want to give back to the community,” he said of why his family will provide a percentage of the revenue to the local governments.

The family put something similar in place in Miami-Dade. During their first year, that translated to about $1 million for both the city and county on the east coast. Last year, it meant about $985,000 in extra revenue for each.

Havenick added that the Magic City Casino is the largest employer of off-duty police officers in Miami. Since opening the facility, police presence has increased in area neighborhoods and crime dropped substantially, he said.

“They love us now,” Havenick said of those living nearby.

It is because of the state’s stance against gambling that his family has turned to local communities to help “force” Florida’s hand. Lee is one of seven counties, including Palm Beach and Daytona, facing a referendum.

“We’re here. We’re a gambling facility. We’ve been here a long time,” Havenick said. “All we’re asking is to grow our business.”

His family bought the original building in 1965, tore it down and worked to build what is standing today. In season, the facility employs about 300, while it employs about 225 to 215 people out of season, according to Havenick.

While dog racing is what separates their establishment from others – Florida is one of three states that still permits it, with 26 dog tracks in the state – his family wants to rebrand itself and adding slots is one way.

Havenick explained that his family is working with others to try to convince the state to reduce the amount of racing it requires at a dog track. Most of the tracks are running all the time just to keep poker gaming open, he said.

Asked what will happen if the expansion fails, Havenick was optimist.

“We don’t think that will happen – with the tourists and the constant changing of money,” he said.

If voters do not support the November referendum, Havenick said his family will re-evaluate the situation and find something else to do with the land.

“If the residents don’t want gaming, we’re not going to jam it down their throats,” he said.