Rul­ing keeps slots out of reach

Palm Beach County loses; Broward, Dade un­af­fected

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

A Florida Supreme Court decision that could have re­sulted in a sweep­ing ex­pan­sion of slot ma­chines across the state, in­clud­ing in Palm Beach County, has in­stead re­stricted them to Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties, where they are al­ready in place.

The decision means that pari-mutuels in Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties that al­ready have slots, such asMardi Gras and Gulf­stream Park in Hal­lan­dale Beach and The Isle Casino in Pom­pano Beach, will con­tinue to have them.

But at the Palm Beach Ken­nel Club, which has long sought to get in on the casino ac­tion, the blink­ing lights and whirling sounds of the ma­chines will re­main out of reach.

The Supreme Court case stemmed from an at­tempt to open slot ma­chines at a race­track in Gretna, a small town in Gads­den County, along the bor­der with Ge­or­gia at the start of the Pan­han­dle.

Like Palm Beach and six other coun­ties, res­i­dents of Gads­den had voted to ap­prove slot ma­chines. The Gretna race­track own­ers ar­gued that such a ref­er­en­dum al­lowed slots with­out the ap­proval of state law.

But in a 6-0 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled oth­er­wise.

“There­must be ‘statu­tory or con­sti­tu­tional au­tho­riza­tion’ for any coun­ty­wide ref­er­en­dum ap­prov­ing slot ma­chines at qual­i­fy­ing parimutuel fa­cil­i­ties,” wrote Jus­tice Charles Canady in his 16-page opin­ion. “The au­tho­riza­tion must be found else­where in the law. And it is nowhere to be found.”

Be­cause of a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment passed by vot­ers in 2004, Broward and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties were specif­i­cally au­tho­rized to pass coun­ty­wide ref­er­enda to ap­prove slot ma­chines. Both even­tu­ally did so.

Other than those two coun­ties, the court found that all county ref­er­en­dums held on gam­bling were void be­cause they were not first ap­proved by state la­wor the con­sti­tu­tion and gam­bling is gen­er­ally il­le­gal in Florida.

With ex­cep­tions later made for In­dian and parimutuel casi­nos, Florida law in­cludes a broad ban on gam­bling: “Who­ever plays or en­gages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance, at any place, by any de­vice what­ever, for money or other thing of value, shall be guilty of a mis­de­meanor of the sec­ond de­gree.”

While the state lacks high-end casi­nos like Las Ve­gas, the Semi­nole Tribe op­er­ates sev­eral casi­nos, in­clud­ing Hard Rock ho­tels and casi­nos in Tampa and Hol­ly­wood. Dog and horse tracks are scat­tered statewide, but only those in South Florida have been per­mit­ted to in­stall slot ma­chines

Af­ter this court decision, coun­ties can only have gam­bling ref­er­en­dums if they are specif­i­cally al­lowed­toby state law or a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, as Broward and Mi­ami-Dade were in 2004.

“The only role that coun­ties play re­gard­ing slot ma­chine gam­ing is con­duct­ing ref­er­en­dums when au­tho­rized by law,” Canady wrote.

The Florida Leg­is­la­ture at­tempted to ad­dress the is­sue of slot ma­chines in a wide-rang­ing gam­bling bill that also cov­ered a new gam­bling deal with the Semi­noles, black­jack at pari-mutuels, and al­low­ing pari-mutuels to con­tinue as casi­nos while halt­ing races.

But it was the slot ma­chine is­sue that caused ne­go­ti­a­tions over the bill to fall apart, with the Se­nate­want­ing to al­low the eight coun­ties that have voted for slots to have them, andtheHouse try­ing to pre­vent any ex­pan­sion of slot ma­chines.

Sen. Bill Gal­vano, the Braden­ton Repub­li­can who spon­sored the gam­bling bill, said the court rul­ing could help leg­is­la­tors reach an agree­ment in 2018.

“This con­fir­ma­tion of leg­isla­tive author­ity re­moves a sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cle in our ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Semi­nole Tribe, pro­vid­ing clar­ity that aswe­move for­ward the Leg­is­la­ture, rather than the courts, will de­ter­mine what ex­pan­sion looks like and where it takes place,” Gal­vano said.

TAIMY AL­VAREZ/SUN SEN­TINEL FILE

Broward and Mi­ami-Dade pari-mutuels that al­ready have slots will con­tinue to have them.

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