Ruling keeps slots out of reach
Palm Beach County loses; Broward, Dade unaffected
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.
Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels that already have slots will continue to have them.