Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issue in Florida over the right of any jurisdiction to vote on allowing slot machines verses the clear intent of Florida legislators to only allow slot machines at state approved locations. The case involving gambling expansion in Gadsden County has reached the Florida Supreme Court and arguments were presented. Creek Entertainment Gretna lawyer claim that any referendum passed by the people should be allowed to move forward as long as there is an eligible facility to run the slots. The implications for the case are quite vast and would allow Greyhound Racing and other pari-mutuel type facilities to dramatically, and likely drastically expand gambling in the state, which is clearly not the intent of state regulators, and the clear conclusion reached by the lower court. The Tampa Bay Times explains:
[Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state] said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna’s slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,” Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither.
Marc Dunbar, lead lawyer for Gretna, pointed to a rule change made by the Legislature and claim that the change opens the door for any county to move forward with the proper facility. Not only Williams refute the claim to the Court, but the Justices themselves raised serious questions about their position:
The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel facility when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots.
The Legislature changed the law in 2010 to allow counties to authorize slot machines, but Williams said that change applies only if the Legislature or the state Constitution authorized the expansion. It does not authorize counties to hold a referendum “for the legal effect of providing an exemption to a statewide ban,” he said.
Justices grilled Dunbar and Williams about what they saw as conflicting legislative intent. [Justice Barbara Pariente] asked Dunbar why lawmakers would authorize slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward but not specifically authorize them elsewhere. “To basically say to 65 other counties you just have to have a referendum and, if you’re a home rule [county], you’re fine,” she said. “This would have been a very, very significant expansion of slot machines… and there is nary a mention in the legislative record of this kind of change.”
Florida legislators responded to questions from the Tampa Bay Time about their perceived intent during the rule change and if massive gambling expansion was really the focus:
Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and supporter of Gretna Racing, said he voted for the change to allow counties the opportunity to bring slot machines to their pari-mutuels and “our intent was never to hamstring the counties and tell them what they could not do.”
But Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been at the core of the Legislature’s gambling negotiations for the past seven years, said Tuesday that when lawmakers adopted the change to the state gaming law in 2010, they did not intend to open the door to the expansion of slot machines as Gretna Racing and five other pari-mutuels around the state are claiming. “It was not the intent of the Legislature to open the door for counties to hold their own referendums to allow the expansion of slots,” he said in an interview with the /Times/Herald/.
He said the Legislature wanted to clarify the terms of the referendum language in the event lawmakers would ever approve of an expansion of gaming in the future. “We didn’t want the Hialeah expansion to muddy the waters,” he said. “Instead, we reiterated that if we approved legislatively expanded slots — or a legislatively constitutional amendment … we didn’t relinquish authority.”
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