As I stood on the steps, outside the anti-Amendment 4 rally in Ft. Lauderdale in 2005, I made a decision. I decided to enter the hall, pretending to be just another anti-slots advocate. The place was packed. There was a podium, center stage. Reporters, photographers, and other media people were bunched in front, awaiting the “stars” of the show. And, a show it was.
Entrance music began to play as local and state politicians entered the stage. Then, Alan Bense, Florida’s Republican Speaker of the House leaped onto the stage as the crowd roared. I thought I was at a rock concert.
Bense gave a short speech and introduced the headline act for this anti-slots, anti-gambling gathering. The music blared as the Speaker of the House welcomed Governor Jeb Bush. He embraced Bush and turned the microphone over to him as the crowd roared its approval. What I heard stunned me.
Governor Bush began by saying how he loved Florida and there was no place for gambling in his state. I guess he failed to realize gambling on the pari-mutuels (horses, dogs, and Jai-Alai) in Florida had been legal since the 1920s. The pari-mutuel business ranked 3rd in the state, only surpassed by tourism and oranges. Plus, we generated millions in tax dollars.
“The pari-mutuels are just a bunch of crooks and I’m going to do everything I can to put them out of business,” Bush shouted to the crowd. I couldn’t believe it. There had been fewer scandals in our highly regulated industry than almost any business in Florida. How about scandals involving politicians! Our governor was calling me a crook and wanted to take away my livelihood, my passion for over 30 years. I was not only deeply offended… I was pissed!
The rally continued for a while longer until the politicians felt they had rallied their base enough to go out and vote against Amendment 4. I was disgusted and depressed. It’s one thing to say you are morally opposed to gambling and feel it is not good for Florida. It’s another to call me, my bosses, my fellow employees, the professional Jai-Alai players, crooks.
I went back to Dania Jai-Alai and reported my “undercover” work to Steve Snyder and John Knox. Neither were surprised by the political rhetoric. We just had more work to do to get our story out. This amendment gives much needed funds to education. We kept our focus on that.
It was finally election day. I, and some others, went to the Dania Beach polling location at the school down the street from the fronton. I held a sign that said “Vote for Education, Vote Yes on Amendment 4.” Then, it began to rain. We stayed through the heat and the rain, hoping to explain and answer questions to voters as they approached. I went home exhausted, but hopeful.
As I watched the statewide returns come in that night, it was almost 50-50. Then, the no-votes took the lead as many of the central and northern counties weighed in. I looked at Sue and said, “It looks like we are going to lose. We better get ready to put the house up for sale.”
Our big hope was the massive Broward county vote that was projected to be positive for the amendment. Steve Snyder, our owner, was at the Broward Elections Center watching the tally. As usual, the vote tabulation was slow. Finally, getting close to midnight, I went to bed thinking that we had lost approximately 50.3% to 49.7%. So close, yet we had lost.
But, Snyder noticed something strange happening with the vote tally as the Broward counts came in. The total count for the Amendment began to be reduced as late votes were counted. After alerting some officials, they found a glitch. The programmers had placed a vote limit in the software. The tabulations began exceeding the limit and “yes” votes were being subtracted instead of added.
Broward’s 67% landslide in favor brought the final vote to 50.7% in favor and 49.3% opposed. I found out the next morning when turning on the news that WE HAD ACTUALLY WON!
Amendment 4 would now be part of the Florida Constitution. Over 7 million Floridians had cast votes. The people had spoken. The political opponents would have to acquiesce to the will of the voters. How naïve could I be?