11/04/2004 1:00AM

Flip-flop on Florida slots


An amendment that would allow for local referenda on slot machines at racetracks in South Florida pulled ahead on Thursday after a computer glitch was uncovered that erroneously tabulated absentee ballots.

The amendment, which could result in slots being installed at Calder Race Course in Miami and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, was trailing in early returns on Wednesday, but as of late Thursday, the measure was leading by 68,000 votes, a wide enough margin to avoid a recount of the results.

The votes were re-tabulated after election officials discovered that a computer program to count absentee ballots for Broward County had erroneously capped the number of votes at 32,000. After hitting the cap, the votes were tabulated opposite of what they actually indicated, election officials in Broward County said.

If the result stands, the amendment will allow voters in Broward and Dade counties, which encompass the greater Miami area, to determine whether slot machines at racetracks should be legal.

Earl Bender, the campaign manager for a group that supported the initiative, said that racetracks hope to get a measure on the ballot sometime within the next year, "and possibly much sooner."

Churchill Downs Inc., the owner of Calder, and Magna Entertainment Corp., the owner of Gulfstream, had pushed for the measure, contending that slot machines will boost horse racing purses in the state and contribute millions of dollars to education.

Stock in Churchill Downs was up $5.37, or 14.8 percent, on Thursday, to $41.72. Stock in Magna Entertainment climbed 96 cents, or 19.9 percent, to $5.78.

Casino gambling is legal in Florida on cruise ships and at casinos owned by several American Indian tribes. The Seminole Indians, who run a casino in Florida, campaigned vigorously to defeat the measure and are expected to challenge it.