Controversial slot-machine referendum up for vote

On March 8, students will have their first opportunity to vote in local elections since the 2004 presidential election. The main issue up for contention is whether or not to allow slot machines at seven existing parimutuel locations, which include dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons. If the referendum passes, the taxes on the slot machines will have to be used to supplement public education in Florida.

Because of last semester’s voter registration efforts for the presidential election, 1,800 more students on the UM campus are now eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

“I think it’s great,” said Pamela Schiess, junior and director of Get Out the Vote. “I think it’s evidence that students want to be involved, and if we can harness this interest for local politics we can have a big impact on the community.”

According to Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, the most important thing is that students exercise their right to vote. Ibis Ride shuttle routes will be modified for the day to stop in front of the Convocation Center.

“We had a meeting with Constance Kaplan, supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade county, and she advised us that she will be increasing the number of voting machines,” Arias said. “We want to encourage the students to go out and vote.”

There are many groups in support of the referendum, including YES for Better Schools and Jobs, a political group spearheading the pro-slots campaign. Alex Havenick, UM student and spokesperson for the group, said that the referendum would generate over $100 million for schools.

“The whole reason this referendum was brought about is that the state of Florida is 47th out of 50 in per person spending for education, and we have one of the worst education systems in the U.S,” Havenick said. “[The money] could do anything from fund pre-K to smaller class sizes to technology. It could go to a plethora of areas.”

The regulation of gambling and the money that will be collected will benefit all, says Havenick.

“It’s really a win win situation-the schools win, the county wins because they get jobs, the players get a fair and regulated game,” he said.

Those opposing the referendum point to the failures of the lottery system, which was intended to provide more money for education but instead allows the money to be redirected elsewhere.

“What are we teaching our children by funding education with gambling?” Ben Everard, junior, said. “I don’t like that they are trying to fix a problem by throwing money at it. Why don’t we fix the lottery system before we go on to gambling?”

Others feel that other issues are at the root of the education problem.

“I think the reason our schools are in such poor shape isn’t because they are under funded-it’s because they are poorly managed,” Jeff Miller, junior, said. “When you have gambling in place and build an economy off free money, it becomes nearly impossible to build a real economy with goods and services, merchants and technology.

“The minimum tax rate will be 30 percent, and all of that must supplement public education. Now there are no controls, no accountability, and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. ”

Advocates of the referendum, however, say that this issue is different from the lottery system. Havenick said that the taxes would be at least 30 percent of the revenues, and that the money will supplement education rather than supplant it.

“For anyone who wants to live in the state of Florida and who is thinking about raising a family, this has a direct impact on them,” Havenick said.

Amy Lawrence contributed to this article.

Megha Garg can be contacted at