TALLAHASSEE | Regulators have denied Bestbet’s request to install 2,000 slot machines at its Jacksonville facility, saying a change is law is required.

 

Duval voters approved a referendum in November to authorize slot machines after Bestbet owners spent more than $2 million on a campaign. In February, the company submitted an application to the state requesting a license for slots at the converted Garden Ridge warehouse on Monument Road.


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The state sent a denial letter to Bestbet President Jamie Shelton on Thursday, citing three reasons why the Jacksonville facility is not eligible for slots.

First, it said state law does not authorize slots in counties that approved a voter referendum unless the referendum itself was authorized by law or in the state Constitution. Second, it said the Florida Constitution only allows for slots referenda to occur in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Third, state law only allows slots in buildings that are “contiguous and connected to the live gaming facility.”

Bestbet Jacksonville operates as a poker room based on an agreement with its sister facility in Orange Park, but no live racing occurs at the Jacksonville facility. The company has 21 days to challenge the state’s decision by requesting an administrative hearing, or it can file an appeal.

Bestbet spokesman Brian Hughes said for now no action will be taken.

Gretna Racing in Gadsden County already sued the state for the same reasons, and that case is currently pending at the Florida Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate are considering dueling gambling bills. The House proposal would not allow any new slots licenses in the state. However, the Senate legislation would authorize slots in any counties where voters approved referenda. The counties that would become casino sites under the Senate plan are Duval, Gadsden, Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

“There is no plan to sue at this time because it appears an existing court case and legislative action may offer (the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations) new guidance on the issue,” Hughes said in a statement. “Bestbet is hopeful the Legislature and the courts will recognize that a decisive majority in Duval County voted in support of adding slot machine games.”

Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321