1st DCA upholds Hialeah slots case
TALLAHASSEE — A three-member appeals court upheld a lower court ruling allowing slots at Hialeah Racetrack and permitting the Legislature to expand gambling instead of requiring voters to approve all expansions.
“The Legislature has broad discretion in regulating and controlling pari-mutuel wagering and gambling under its police powers,” the court wrote.
Read the ruling here.
A circuit judge had previously ruled that the Legislature has the authority – as asserted in a bill passed in 2010 that gave the revived Hialeah racetrack the right to install slot machines. But other parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that won the right to offer slot machines by passage of a 2004 constitutional amendment disagree. They contend voters intended to allow slots only at South Florida racetracks and frontons that were operating in 2004, a period when Hialeah was closed. They had asked the 1st DCA to overturn the circuit ruling and say that the expansion could only occur by referendum.
The case, which will likely go to the Supreme Court, is crucial to the destination casino effort in Florida. If the court had gone against Hialeah, it would have meant that other gaming expansions also would have had to be done via referendum. The big time destination resorts were leery of committing to that type of campaign.
Similar efforts have failed three times since 1978.
Hialeah wins court ruling, court says slots okay — helps casino ventures
In a huge victory for Hialeah Racetrack and a promising omen for the resort casinos, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee Thursday affirmed a lower court decision and said that the law passed by the legislature to allow Hialeah Racetrack to offer slot machines was constitutional.
The short seven-page ruling by Judge Marguerite H. Davis rejected the arguments of Flagler Gaming Centers and Calder Race Course who argued that when voters approved slot machines in Miami Dade and Broward they intended to limit the number of permits to the seven parimutuels that were currently operating.
The court rejected that argument, saying “the Legislature has broad discretion in regulating and controlling pari-mutuel wagering and gambling under its police powers.” Davis wrote that the constitutional amendment approved by voters “provides no indication that Florida voters intended to forever prohibit the Legislature from exercising its authority to expand slot machine gaming beyond those facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties meeting the specified criteria.
“Nor is there any indication that Florida voters intended to grant the seven entities who met the criteria a constitutionally-protect monopoly over slot machine gaming in the state.”
The ruling is likely to be hailed by the operators of resort casinos who are asking the Legislature to open the door to Las Vegas style games in South Florida. An adverse ruling could have forced them to seek a constitutional amendment before getting legislative approval.