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A special referendum election will be held in Hamilton County on April 10 asking voters to approve or reject a slot machine wagering license. All Hamilton County registered voters are eligible to vote. If the referendum passes, an agreement will be drawn up as to what percentage of revenue the county will receive.

Early voting dates are March 31 through April 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the supervisor of elections office in the courthouse annex. Absentee voting is available on request by calling 386-792-1426.

The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tues. Dec. 20, to allow the special referendum, which was requested by the owner of Hamilton Jai Alai & Poker and Hamilton Downs Race Track, Robert Glenn Richards, who will be footing the bill for the election. Commissioner Randy Ogburn, District 4, was the lone vote against. Richards had also sought a 90-day special permit back in Dec. 2011 to hold barrel racing on his horse track property off exit 143, which was also granted by the board of commissioners.

If the slots referendum passes, the two-year barrel racing requirements are met, and Richards is granted a slot machine license by the state, he says he has people committed to the project who will spend close to $100 million for a hotel and casino on that property. Richards already has a pari-mutuel license for the horse track property, which is where he intends to hold the barrel racing. There is no horse track there yet, which is required by the Quarter Horse Association. Richards told the commissioners back in December that he hadn't built it yet because of the economy.

"It's a $200 million project and will give local contractors jobs," said Richards. "Plus it will bring $2 million in ad valorem taxes for Hamilton County."

Richards went on to say that the project will add 225 jobs minimum, from management to groundskeepers.

"Offshoots of the project are people who want to retire to Hamilton County because they'll have something to do," Richards added.

The barrel racing that was supposed to begin at the end 2011 was held up, Richards said, so the new plan is to hold the first meet at the end of this year, with another meet following it in January 2013.

"Gadsden and Washington counties have already passed their referendums,” Richards said. “So if Hamilton County doesn't pass the slots referendum and get the track up and running, folks will drive right on by Hamilton County and the money won't stay here."

Johnny Bullard from White Springs said, “I'm voting for it. If it brings in revenue for the county, I'm all for it.”

Sandi Allen in Jennings, however, stated, “I will vote “no” because when we allowed the place out on 129 to come in, it was to help our county. We are still the poorest county in the state.”

“While I support entrepreneurial business development, my position is that gambling is not good public policy,” said White Springs Mayor Helen Miller. “Hamilton County is 65 out of 67 counties in Florida in income and quality of life measures. My goal is job creation and increasing the tax base through growth and development of family-friendly attractions and related businesses. Ultimately, it is for the voters to decide.”

Susan Ramsey stated, “This is my personal opinion. I am in favor of allowing slots in the county, as each person can choose if they wish to participate or not.”

Grace McDonald of Hamilton County Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition had much to say against the slots referendum stating, “I think this referendum is part of the process to open up horse racing and more gambling to our community. I am opposed to any type of gambling. There is more harm done to our community by gambling businesses than any financial benefits they say it will bring. Too many families can barely afford to pay for their basic needs. Gambling takes away from essential needs being met. Too many children suffer because of gambling. It has the same negative effect on families as drugs and alcohol abuse, in both the areas of finance and relationships.”

She went on to say, “Gambling has the potential to become addictive. Here we are dealing with a social issue that brings distress to other family members and adds to the burden to our society. Our community has enough problems meeting the needs of those who are suffering from job loss and poverty. Why add to the problem with just one more vice? Therefore, I am definitely against this referendum.”

Be sure to get out and vote on April 10 so that your voice can be heard and remember, early voting runs from March 31 through April 5.

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