Fla. appeal court hears slot machine argument.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A former state Supreme Court justice representing Hialeah’s race track urged an appellate court on Wednesday to rule that lawmakers can allow slot machines anywhere in Florida.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal also heard two opposing arguments. One is that a state constitutional amendment limits slots to seven pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties but that lawmakers are free to permit others in Florida’s remaining 65 counties.
The second is that slots are prohibited everywhere in Florida except at the seven South Florida horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons.
Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero disagreed with both of those interpretations of the citizen initiative voters passed in 2004.
“It unambiguously does not prohibit the Legislature from its historical role of regulating gaming and slot machines pursuant to its police power,” Cantero told the panel.
A ruling in his client’s favor also could open the door to letting the Legislature permit casino resorts in Florida.
Cantero appeared on behalf of Hialeah Park, which had been excluded from the slots amendment. That’s because the Miami-Dade horse track had been dormant for eight years and did not run races in 2003 or 2004 as required to qualify under the amendment.
The Legislature, though, last year passed a law permitting slots at pari-mutuel facilities in charter counties and counties that hold referendums on the issue if those facilities conducted live racing in the two years before they apply.
The law made Hialeah eligible because it resumed racing in 2009 and Miami-Dade is a charter county. Competing pari-mutuel facilities challenged Hialeah’s slots application and the new law’s constitutionality.
Circuit Judge James Shelfer of Tallahassee last year dismissed part of their lawsuit and ruled the Legislature retains the power to permit slots statewide. The competitors appealed that decision to the 1st District.
Lawyers on both sides said the case may wind up in the Florida Supreme Court, particularly if the appellate judges rule the 2010 law violates the slots amendment.
The Legislature throughout Florida’s history refused to permit slots and other casino-style gambling until 2010. Besides the slots law, the Legislature last year also endorsed a 20-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that guarantees the state about $1.3 billion over the first five years and more later in exchange for the expansion of gaming at the tribe’s casinos.
Voters also rejected three prior casino gambling amendments.
The 2004 amendment allows slots in Miami-Dade and Broward with voter approval. Broward voters passed a slots referendum in 2005, but a similar vote failed in Miami-Dade that year. Miami-Dade voters subsequently approved slots in 2008. In each case, though, only those facilities that had live racing or jai alai games in 2003 and 2004 qualified.
“It would be a grand surprise to find out now that the Legislature despite this vote … could now, in Dade and Broward counties, expand the universe of slot machines,” said Bruce Rogow, a lawyer for Calder Race Course. He said that would “make a mockery of the voters’ decision to approve slot machine gaming in these seven venues.”
Rogow, though, conceded the Legislature can permit more slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.
Joel Perwin, a lawyer for Flagler Dog Track and Florida Gaming Center Inc., which owns Miami Jai-Alai, did not concede that point. Unlike Rogow, he argued the amendment prohibits slots anywhere in the except at the seven South Florida facilities.
“So, the constitutional provision is intended to create a monopoly in perpetuity for seven entities?” asked Judge William Van Nortwick Jr.
“Every constitutional provision is in perpetuity unless amended,” Perwin replied.
Van Nortwick asked Rogow if excluding Hialeah would violate that track’s equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. Rogow said it would not because Hialeah was not similarly situated. The other facilities had been active in 2003 and 2004 but Hialeah was not, he said.
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- Quote from United Florida Horsemen on today’s Gadsden County slot referendum (1/31):