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County voters may get say on slot machines

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By Pat Faherty

While the expansion of casino gambling will be a hot topic at the upcoming legislative session, one Florida Panhandle county may attempt to beat the rush.

The Gadsden County Board of Commissioners will be asked to approve a county wide referendum on allowing slot machines at a new horse track and poker room complex.

The Creek Entertainment Horse Track facility is set to open in late November just off Interstate 10 about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. The track already has state approval to run pari-mutuel horse racing and pending approval for a poker room. It has also applied for food service and beverage licenses.

On Tuesday the county board will be asked to approve holding a countywide referendum on allowing slot machines at the horse track facility. The issue would be on the Jan. 31 Republican Presidential Preference.

Creek Entertainment Gretna, which owns the horse track, will pay for all expenses related to the ballot. If successful the measure will only allow slot machines at the horse track facility.

Plans for the track and card room complex in Gretna, Fla. were announced in January 2011 by the Alabama-based Poach Band of Creek Indians and Florida developer David Romanik. The project was welcomed by Gadsden County and the small rural city of Gretna as a source of new jobs and tax revenue.

"Gretna is a wonderful community, and it is a privilege to be able to provide jobs here," said Tribe Chairman Buford L. Rollin at the groundbreaking ceremony. "Our Tribe takes great pride in all of our businesses and the quality of entertainment that they offer. We are excited to see what Creek Entertainment Gretna will mean to the economic well-being of our neighbors in North Florida."

Construction has been going on for the past 10 months along with training classes for potential card room employees. There has also been a spurt of public works as Gretna rushed to provide water and sewer service to the site. Ironically, it is just down the road from the hulking Big Bend Jai-Alai fronton that closed in 2003.

“I support anything that will bring more jobs and tax revenue to our community,” said Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt. “We need jobs and Gretna needs a lot of improvements.” She favors putting the issue on the ballot.

Including construction work, the new horse track and poker complex is expected to create about 150 new jobs and stimulate development on surrounding properties.