Court lets plan for gambling amendment proceed
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.”