Customers will soon be placing their bets at the site of a former St. Augustine flea market as bestbet announces plans to build a new gaming facility on land wedged between Interstate 95 and Florida 207.
The owners of the planned 40,673-square-foot poker room and simulcast betting complex at 800 Marketplace Drive got their building permit just under a week ago from St. Johns County officials. .
The move brings bestbet back to the county where it opened St. Johns Greyhound Park in the 1990s at Race Track Road off the US 1 to offer dog races and then mutual betting on other races. It became “The Best Bet” in 2004 when poker arrived at a 44-table gambling hall. Then it closed in 2012, six years before voters in Florida approved a constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing.
“The first game room to open in Northeast Florida was in St Johns County, and customers have always appreciated the entertainment option on offer,” Bestbet president Jamie Shelton told the St. Augustine Record.
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The new facility would be smaller than the other bestbet locations. One is 74,863 square feet at 201 Monument Road in Jacksonville. A 100,146 square foot facility operates in the former Greyhound Track at 455 Park Ave. at Orange Park. These offer poker and other card games, simultaneous betting on horse and greyhound racing and jai alai.
In 2020, an initial bestbet proposal to open a facility in St. Johns sparked a court challenge from the Daytona Beach Kennel Club because of its proximity to St. Johns County. It was not maintained.
“We believe the facility will attract both the immediate area and the southeast,” Shelton told The Record, adding that it would take about a year to build it.
“We are now in the design stages and working to make the design a first class facility,” Shelton said.
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The move follows news that global casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. is considering land around Jacksonville International Airport for a potential casino complex if Florida voters approve a statewide gambling referendum in November 2022, according to city council member Reggie Gaffney.
The city councilor had backed a Duval County referendum in 2016 that saw 54% approval for slots at the bestbet poker room in Arlington.
That measure failed when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature should change the law for a county referendum to open that door. Then, in 2018, voters in Florida changed the state’s constitution giving voters exclusive power to decide gambling outside of Seminole tribal lands, where it’s legal.
A citizen petition campaign must be carried out to get an amendment to the ballot and then statewide approval at the polls. The bestbet poker room on Monument Road has a card room license.
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The proposed Second Amendment drafted by the voters in charge of Florida would allow three new casinos located at least 100 miles from one of the Seminole Tribe casinos. The Florida Gaming Control Commission would issue these licenses based on the applications it receives, and each casino would require an investment of at least $ 500 million.
The former bestbet building on Race Track Road has long been considered an eyesore due to its dilapidated condition. It was demolished several months ago for a large-scale, mixed-use development called the Grand Cypress, which St. Johns County Commissioners approved in January.
The plan, submitted by Jacksonville-based Gatlin Development Co., provides for a rezoning of the property to allow 915 multi-family units and 250,000 square feet of commercial and office use.
Meanwhile, an additional 23 acres of the former St. Augustine flea market site have been sold to Baptist Health for $ 11.9 million so they can build a hospital complex. Work on this project is ongoing.
Times-Union writer Dan Scanlan contributed to this report.