12/08/2005 1:00AM

Florida reaches slots compromise


MIAMI - The Florida Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would allow Gulfstream Park and three other parimutuel wagering facilities in Broward County each to install 1,500 Las Vegas-style slot machines within six months of the law taking effect.

Under the legislation, profits on the machines would be taxed at a 50 percent rate, the second-highest tax rate on slots in the country. Only New York has a higher rate, at 60 percent.

The 50 percent rate was a compromise between the Florida House's bill, which called for a 55 percent rate, and the Senate's original version, which proposed a 45 percent rate. The House passed the compromise bill by a 110-8 vote, the Senate by 33-7.

The other facilities that would be allowed to install slots in Broward County are the Pompano Park Harness Track, Dania Jai-Alai, and the Hollywood Greyhound Track. All tax money from slot machines would go to enhance public education throughout the state.

The legislation calls for state regulators to draft rules under which the facilities can operate the slot machines within six months. It also allows slot operations to begin under temporary permits if permanent regulations are not finished.

In the fall of 2004, Florida voters gave Broward and Dade counties the right to decide whether slot machines should be installed at parimutuel facilities in the two counties. Broward voters approved the issue, but Dade voters turned down slots in a special vote held in March of 2005. Under the terms of the referendum, lawmakers were required to draft slots legislation by July 1 but failed to do so. The new law was agreed upon and approved during a special weeklong legislative session called by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Some lawmakers and officials from Gulfstream and Calder Race Course, which is in Dade County, have expressed concerns that the bill's high tax rate might not provide enough incentive to build slot operations adequate enough to compete with nearby facilities owned by Native American tribes.

Brian Budden, vice president of corporate development for Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Gulfstream Park, was traveling from the state capital in Tallahassee on Thursday and was not available to comment Thursday evening. The Gulfstream meet opens on Jan. 4.