Seminole County commissioners unanimously rejected on Tuesday a request by the owner of the Orlando Jai-Alai Fronton in Fern Park to place a referendum on the general election ballot asking voters to put a poker room on the property.
Commissioners urged attorneys for Richard Birdoff, president of RD Management, which owns the building, and developer The Cordish Companies —which operates Live! Casinos—, to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot themselves, reports Orlando Sentinel. Parties would have to gather signatures in a petition drive by this summer to ask county voters if a proposed new development can offer casino gaming.
The petition drive, which according to commissioners would give Seminole residents an opportunity to learn about the development project and the poker room proposal, would have to gather about 24,800 signatures to make it to the ballot.
The RD Management and Cordish Companies-backed proposal seeks to transform the old property and the mostly vacant adjacent land into a mixed-use project which would feature up to 1,127 luxury apartments and condominiums, plus 72,000 square feet of retail stores and offices.
The development also calls for a “Sports and Social” entertainment venue fronting US 17-92 which, in addition to dining and lounges, would also feature a sportsbook. However, the main issue brought up at the meeting was that the project also proposes a separate 2,400-square-foot room within the venue, which would offer poker tables.
“It’s not a casino,” said attorney Marc Jones, who represents RD Management and Cordish, according to the cited source. During the meeting, David Cordish, CEO of Cordish Companies, argued poker players would compete against each other instead of playing against the house, with dealers being paid by the venue and taking $5 only from the pot.
However, Seminole voters would still have to approve the room in a countywide referendum as Florida law states local voter approval is necessary for any plan to open a casino in the county and, according to the law, a poker room is defined as casino gambling.
Mike Jones, an attorney representing RD Management and Cordish, told commissioners their decision to require a petition drive would ultimately shut the door on letting voters decide on the issue in 2022, as the parties involved would not possibly make the November ballot within the proposed time.
RD Management bought the fronton and surrounding property for $2.5 million in 2010, which has an active pari-mutuel license that allows limited wagering since the early 1960s. A ballot referendum would likely ask voters to allow wagering specifically within the proposed entertainment venue.
According to attorneys for the companies, the Oxford Town Center development would bring in about $3.9 million annually in tax revenue, with the poker room helping draw visitors from around the state to surrounding restaurants and retail.