Friday, a May 1st District Court of Appeals decision that would have allowed slot machines at Gadsden County’s Gretna Racing pari-mutuel track, conditional to voter approval, was reversed in a new ruling by the same court but with a new judge.
After May’s appellate court approval, Attorney General Pam Bondi, with the support of Governor Rick Scott, requested another hearing before the full court of appeals, but was denied. Instead, the three-judge panel agreed to hear the case again with new appellate court judge, Ross L. Bilbrey.
Gov. Scott appointed Bilbrey when Judge Nikki Ann Clark retired in June after 22-years on the bench and 17-years prior as legal counsel. Friday’s ruling overturned the May decision as new appellate justice Bilbrey sided with Judge Scott Makar who originally dissented in the earlier hearing. The Appeals Court justices have also requested that the Florida Supreme Court take up the issue to help bring legal clarity to legislative language.
Slot machines have been limited to southern Florida pari-mutuel tracks, and AG Bondi argued that the Broward and Miami-Dade counties are the only locations in which slot machines are legal, as per a voter-approved 2004 Florida constitutional amendment. However, in 2009 a law was passed legalizing slot machines for pari-mutuels. Since then, voters in Lee, Brevard, Palm Beach, Hamilton and Washington counties have approved referendums allowing slots at their pari-mutuel tracks.
The Gretna facility is co-owned by the Poarch Creek Indians as well as independent investors. A statement from the tribe following Friday’s ruling stated that they looked forward to the Florida Supreme Court’s review and perceive the issue will be resolved in their favor.