Gaming Expansion in Florida Rests with the Florida Supreme Court
Two issues of profile now are in the hands of Florida’s highest court which could forever change the landscape of Florida’s gaming industry.
The first case involves a small horse track in North Florida, Gretna Racing. This quarter horse track located in Gadsden County, Florida applied for a license to operate slot machines after the voters in the county overwhelmingly approved their use. The slot machine regulator, citing an opinion by Florida’s Republican Attorney General, denied the application and litigation ensued. The high court heard arguments from the proponents and the Attorney General’s office as to the their interpretations of Florida law which should impact the pending application. The case will come down to a statutory interpretation of what an “eligible facility” is under Florida’s slot machine licensing chapter. Supplemental briefs were filed by other pari-mutuel facilities in Florida who copied Gretna’s actions and conducted successful slot machine referenda in their respective counties.
If the court rules in Gretna’s favor, six Florida counties, Washington, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Brevard, and Palm Beach, could see new slot machine operations. In the weeks since the oral arguments, at least three other Florida counties indicated an interest in following the Gretna actions. November of 2016 could see additional slot machine referenda in Duval, St. Johns, and St. Lucie counties. Florida has not set a deadline on when the Supreme Court needs to rule on the case. One of the justices on the court must retire upon his 70th birthday in January of 2017, which has many court prognosticators looking for a ruling prior to his retirement.
In addition to this case, the Florida Supreme Court has another matter pending before it which poses an even greater impact on Florida’s gaming industry. A citizens’ initiative constitutional amendment being driven by No Casinos, Inc. is pending “single subject” review before the high court. This review requires the court to look at the ballot measure to ensure that it includes only one subject and that its ballot title and summary are not misleading as to the initiative’s actual impact, if passed by the voters.
The initial briefs filed by interested parties indicate that Florida’s gaming industry is very concerned about the proposal and its potential retroactive impact which could undo gambling carve outs for the Florida lottery, Florida’s arcade industry, Florida’s pari-mutuel cardroom and slot machine operations, and the federal Indian gaming rights of certain tribes, which have not yet entered into a gaming compact with the State of Florida. The court has not indicated whether it will schedule oral arguments but has placed the case on its “high profile” docket. If the proposed amendment survives the single subject review, it could be put before the voters in November of 2018 and would require passage by 60 percent of Florida’s voters.