Court lets plan for gam­bling amend­ment pro­ceed

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Sweeney Staff writer

TALLAHASSEE Af­ter a Florida Supreme Court de­ci­sion Thurs­day that gave the green light to a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on gam­bling, ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Florida House and Se­nate over gam­bling leg­is­la­tion were called off.

The court ruled 4-2 that the amend­ment’s word­ing was not mis­lead­ing and sticks to one sub­ject. The amend­ment gives Florida vot­ers the “exclusive right to de­cide whether to au­tho­rize casino gam­bling.”

Back­ers of the amend­ment will still need to gather more than 700,000 sig­na­tures to make the 2018 bal­lot. They had sub­mit­ted 74,626 sig­na­tures as of Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to the state Divi­sion of Elec­tions.

Two Supreme Court jus­tices ar­gued that the amend­ment was mis­lead­ing be­cause it is un­clear how it would af­fect

coun­ties, in­clud­ing Mi­ami-Dade and Broward, where vot­ers have ap­proved slot machines at dog and horse tracks.

The House and Se­nate have passed gam­bling bills this ses­sion, which ends May 5. The two bills are vastly dif­fer­ent, forc­ing the chambers to go into a con­fer­ence to iron out the details.

That con­fer­ence had been ten­ta­tively set for 4 p.m. Thurs­day, but the court’s de­ci­sion to al­low the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to go for­ward in­def­i­nitely post­poned it, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­iar with the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“The Supreme Court ruled today on voter con­trol of gam­ing. I want to digest the de­ci­sion be­fore mov­ing for­ward,” said con­fer­ence chair­man Sen. Bill Gal­vano, R-Braden­ton.

At stake are ele­ments in the Se­nate ver­sion of the bill that would give craps and roulette to the Semi­nole Tribe, black­jack to parimutuels in Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties and slot machines to coun­ties in which vot­ers have ap­proved them. None of those changes are in­cluded in the House gam­bling bill.

Eight coun­ties other than Broward and Mi­ami-Dade, where they are al­ready le­gal, have ap­proved slot machines. Palm Beach County vot­ers ap­proved al­low­ing slot machines at the Palm Beach Ken­nel Club, but the state con­sti­tu­tion specif­i­cally men­tions only Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties as be­ing able to have slots.

The con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t say whether other coun­ties can, and whether the Broward and Mi­ami-Dade lan­guage means that only those coun­ties can have slot machines is the sub­ject of an­other state Supreme Court case, a de­ci­sion in which could come at any time.

The Semi­nole Tribe would have to sign off on a fi­nal gam­bling bill, but they’ve come out against both the House and Se­nate ver­sions.

It’s un­clear whether a law passed by the Leg­is­la­ture be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion­would re­main in place.

That am­bi­gu­ity over whether the amend­ment could be ap­plied retroac­tively was the chief is­sue cited by the two jus­tices who dis­sented from the state Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

State Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aven­tura, said he and other gam­bling con­fer­ence mem­bers need time to read the Supreme Court de­ci­sion for them­selves.

A gam­bling con­fer­ence likely will be Mon­day or Tues­day, Geller said.

Gal­vano had ini­tially hoped to wrap up gam­bling ne­go­ti­a­tions ahead of House and Se­nate wran­gling over the bud­get, so that the money the state would gen­er­ate from rev­enue-shar­ing agree­ments with the Semi­nole Tribe could be added into the bud­get. Ac­cord­ing to Geller, the post­pon­ing might not af­fect that out­come.

“My un­der­stand­ing is they’re not begin­ning the bud­get con­fer­ence un­til Wed­nes­day,” he said, “so it de­pends how quickly we move.”

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