The Florida Supreme Court reviewed a proposal on November 2 that looks to amend the constitution and give voters in the state the right to control the growth of casino games. The ‘Voter Control of Gambling in Florida’ will remove decision making from lawmakers in the state and county officials and place the authority in the hands of the voters. Should the amendment be approved, it could severely impact the growth of the gambling industry in Florida.
Those in favor of the proposal want to get it onto the 2018 ballot but have to first get the approval of the Supreme Court who is trying to determine if the ballot summary is transparent enough for voters to understand the consequences of the proposal and also to see if the meets the ‘single-subject’ demand of the citizens initiatives. The proposal is being pushed by a group known as ‘Voters in Charge’.
One of the key issues discussed during the hearing on Wednesday was the case against small pari-mutuel Gretna Racing in rural Gadsden County. The state high court has to make a decision shortly and determine if the pari-mutuel is allowed to have slot machines. The decision is expected to have a major impact on the gaming industry as voters in five counties (Lee, Brevard, Palm Beach, Washington and Hamilton) have voted in favor of jai alai frontons to have slot machines.
The Gretna Racing case revolves around the approval process for slot machines. The court has to make a decision whether gambling operators can add slot machines if they gain the approval of county voters and not wait on the approval of the legislature. Voters in Charge legal representative highlighted this fact to Justice Ricky Polston and stated that a constitutional amendment would provide clarity over such matters.
Lawyer Marc Dunbar who represents a number of gambling stakeholders in Florida opposed the constitutional amendment stating that it would result in a massive amount of litigation over the proposed interpretation. Dunbar was also concerned that if the proposal gets approved, it could be retroactively applied and hurt pari-mutuels who have already received approval to runs slot machines.
During the hearing, Dunbar said “Will (arcades) be frozen forevermore for any new product because they operate under a slot machine exemption? Will they have to go to a statewide initiative because they want a new arcade game? It’s taking away from everybody that has had it for the past 150 years overturning all precedent and saying if you want it back, you have to have a constitutional amendment.”
Justice Charles Canady and Justice Barbara Pariente stated that while some people believe the court’s role in the present case is to vote on the merits of the proposal, their role now is simply to make sure that the ballot title and its summary fully and clearly reflect the proposed amendment.