Although the legal path is not currently clear, Florida‘s Senate President, Joe Negron indicated earlier this week that he is in favor of allowing slot machines in counties where voters have approved them. Voters in St. Lucie and Duval counties approved ballot measures on November 8 to allow the machines, and six other counties had approved them in earlier elections.
According to local media reports, Negron told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Tuesday that state lawmakers should heed the will of local voters if they have approved of placing slots at parimutuel facilities in Florida.
“I’m not encouraging counties to do that, but if voters in a particular county approve more gaming opportunities, I think we should respect the decision of those citizens and those communities to shape the way they want their communities to look,” said Negron. “And we should honor that, rather than stand in the way of it and substitute our judgment for the judgment of the voters.”
A constitutional amendment that was passed in 2004 allowed for slot machines to be placed at parimutuel racing facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It is not yet clear if the Florida Supreme Court will decide that other counties who have passed referendums can place the machines. Gretna Racing has a case in front of the court. The last arguments were heard in June. The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled earlier that county voters could not authorize the machines, only the legislature. A 2009 gambling law is at the center of the arguments.
Further complicating the matter is a 2010 compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Parts of the agreement have expired but the core remains intact. Under that agreement the Seminoles, who run Hard Rock and other casinos, were given exclusive rights to certain games, and slots were included. After failing to pass a new agreement with the tribe earlier, the new legislature is hoping to cement a deal. Reports indicate that earlier this month representatives of the governor’s office met with tribal leaders, but no details have been released.
Governor Rick Scott proposed a $3 billion compact, scheduled to last 7 years but it fell flat with lawmakers.
How the Seminole issue is finally legislated and how the Supreme Court acts have a potential for conflict. Another recent legal issue has complicated matters further as the eventual scope of the Florida gambling landscape comes into focus. A federal judge decided in November that the state had violated the existing compact by allowing horse and dog tracks to offer card games that mimicked the ones the tribe was granted an exclusive to offer. Two days ago the judge said his ruling was valid and his “original opinion correctly analyzes the issues.”