Hialeah Racetrack can proceed with slots, destination casino proponents still have a shot and one hurdle toward slot pandemonium across the state has been cleared.
The Florida Supreme Court Friday dismissed an appeal by South Florida pari-mutuels that argued that Hialeah should not be allowed to have slot machines because it was not part of the statewide amendment in 2004 that that allowed slot referendums in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The Legislature later voted to allow slots at Hialeah, but other pari-mutuels argued that such a move was not in their authority.
This would have been the third time for the case, and the Supreme Court rarely hears such a thing.
"I’m gratified that our position was upheld, and I’m certainly relieved of the uncertainty that it caused," Hialeah President John Brunetti said. "And I just hope the industry can be more cooperative as we go forward. This constantly battling among ourselves isn’t proving to be to anyone’s benefit.
"I’m just hoping in the future we can solve all the rest of our problems."
Based on Brunetti's projections, the closest casino to Hialeah, Magic City Casino, would lose $1 million to $2 million per month in slot revenue if Hialeah opens.
In October, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that the Legislature had wide discretion over gambling in the state and could expand it. But the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which offered no explanation in its dismissal.
Destination casino proponents have been counting on the legislature (although there's now talk of a referendum), and had the Supremes denied the lawmakers that right to say yea or nay, one pro-casino backer said "we'd have had to take our ball and go home."
An attempt to approve three destination casinos in South Florida died in a House committee this year.
Hialeah's plan is to open in March 2013 with 950 slots and 30 poker tables. (There had been plans to hustle up a poker room this spring, but that's been scrapped.)
Brunetti has said all along that the language in the amendment confused voters near Hialeah, who thought it was included in the initiative. Other pari-mutuel owners say he was asked to be part of the campaign but he declined, which he disputes.
Meanwhile, counties with slot referendums all over the state now can continue to turn to the legislature in their attempt to bring one-armed bandits to their locales, because there is no threat that the 2004 amendment excluded them.
However, Attorney General Pam Bondi in January told the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that it has no right to issue slot machine permits outside of South Florida. Attorneys for the pari-mutuels trying to add racinos, naturally, disagree.
The DBPR sought the opinion after it allowed Gretna to operate barrel racing as a legitimate pari-mutuel sport and the Gadsden County Commission used the permit to schedule and approve a local referendum to authorize slot machines. About five other Florida counties either have approved referendums or have them on the ballot for the fall, including Palm Beach County.
But DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson said he intends to follow Bondi's guidance and not issue any slot permits.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun