In a major defeat for eight Florida counties that wanted to use the outcome of public referendums in order to authorize slots at existing parimutuel racetracks and jai-alai frontons, the Florida Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that any such moves require legislative approval.
According to a report from the Miami Herald newspaper, the Thursday ruling against Gretna Racing, which is an enterprise of the Poarch Band Of Creek Indians and operates the Creek Entertainment Gretna facility in rural Gadsden County, saw Florida’s highest court uphold an earlier decision from the Division Of Parimutuel Wagering that asserted that state law does not permit counties to conduct referendums for the purposes of permitting slots.
“In the absence of such a specific authorization, a county cannot initiate a referendum that will authorize the Division [Of Parimutuel Wagering] to issue a license any more than the county could itself issue a slot machine gaming license,” wrote Justice Charles Canady in the ruling.
Lawyers for Gretna Racing had reportedly contended in their June oral arguments that the door for counties to seek voter approval in order to bring slots to their parimutuel facilities had been opened in 2009 when Florida lawmakers modified statutes so that Hialeah Park Racing And Casino could offer the machines.
However, Canady reportedly ruled that while “slot machine gaming is permitted under tight restrictions as laid out by the legislature in chapter 551” there is nothing in this statute that “grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county”.
“The only role that counties play regarding slot machine gaming is conducting referenda when authorized by law,” wrote Canady in his ruling, which was signed by five other justices including the court’s newest, Alan Lawson.
The Miami Herald reported that the decision has halted the prospects that slots will be coming to facilities in Gadsden County, Brevard County, Duval County, Lee County, Hamilton County, Palm Beach County, St Lucie County and Washington County any time soon despite voters in these areas previously approving such moves.
“The good news is there will not be thousands of slot machines coming to Florida without further action by the legislature,” John Sowinski, President for the non-profit No Casinos pressure group, told the newspaper.
But, the ruling does not mean that the eight counties will never have slots as Republican Florida State Senator Bill Galvano told the Miami Herald that legislators could still authorize such a move albeit in a way that would not damage the state’s existing gaming compact with the casino-operating Seminole Tribe Of Florida.
“It doesn’t mean this issue is gone,” Galvano told the newspaper. “If we still want to see an expansion of slots, it puts us in the driver’s seat.”