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Supreme Court decision to stay out of slots highlights Palm Beach County case

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday refused to wade into a lower court decision that opened the door for slot machines at pari-mutuels throughout the state, elevating a Palm Beach County challenge to a proposed slots referendum this fall.

The Supreme Court dismissed appeals by several Miami-Dade County pari-mutuels challenging whether slots should be limited to seven pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

That appellate court decision last fall opened the door for counties, including Palm Beach, to put referenda before voters allowing them to decide whether their pari-mutuels should be allowed to have more lucrative slot machine gambling.

Gambling lawyers throughout the state and Gov. Rick Scott’s administration officials were anxiously awaiting what many hoped would be a Supreme Court decision settling the issue.

Instead, focus is now on the Palm Beach County lawsuit filed by a Boca Raton woman last month. The Palm Beach court case could ripple throughout the state if Judge Janis Keyser yanks the referendum off the ballot.

“Obviously every pari-mutuel in the state is watching that with eager interest,” Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents Gulfstream Race Track and who also is a part-owner of a Gretna horse track in Gadsden County, where he hopes to soon start slot machine gambling. “All of a sudden all eyes go to Palm Beach.”

Lawyers representing the county are expected to file their briefs Monday in the case.

County commissioners voted in December to place the referendum on the ballot in the hopes that a favorable vote would lead to slot machines at the Palm Beach County Kennel Club. Voters in three counties – Gadsden, Hamilton and Washington – have already signed off on the measures.

The Palm Beach County lawsuit filed by Boca Raton resident Sandra Medlicott centers on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi earlier this year saying pari-mutuels should not be authorized to offer slots without changes to the state constitution or permission from the Legislature.

Weatherford says West not being targeted by Legislature

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

House redistricting maps slated for a vote this week put a number of incumbent Republicans in tough spots, including U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation.

But the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, fired off a statement Monday refuting lingering speculation that West was being singled out.

In both the House and Senate congressional plans, West loses a Republican-leaning section of his district in northern Palm Beach County to the seat now held by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.

Rooney’s brother, Patrick, is a Republican state representative from West Palm Beach. The Rooney family’s ownership of  Palm Beach Kennel Club also has positioned them as political players in Tallahassee for decades.

“There are rumors that the Florida Legislature has targeted Congressman Allen West,” Weatherford said Monday. “This is patently false. I personally have supported and endorsed Allen West. I will continue to support this extraordinary member of Congress who has brought a much needed conservative voice to Washington, D.C.

“However, my personal support cannot and will not trump the Constitution,” Weatherford said, pointing out that the redistricting effort is guided by a range of state and federal standards.

West apparently doesn’t feel he’s getting the short end of the stick from state lawmakers. West’s chief of staff, Jonathan Blyth, told the Post last month his boss is taking a long view of the redistricting proposals, which may undergo further changes following eventual court reviews.

“This is the second minute of the first round of a boxing match,” Blyth said, when the House congressional maps surfaced and bore a strong resemblance to those out of the Senate.

While West loses a key piece of Palm Beach County, the redistricting plans push him deeper into Democratic-leaning Broward County.

Rooney’s district is reduced from a rambling eight counties to a more manageable four, under both the House and Senate proposals. But while still Republican-leaning, Rooney’s district doesn’t clearly favor the GOP, since it also acquires large portions of St. Lucie County that backed Barack Obama in 2008.

Bondi, state regulators say no to slots at Gretna and raise doubts about Palm Beach

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State regulators won’t give a Panhandle horsetrack permission to have slot machines without legislative approval or changes to the state constitution based on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday.

Her non-binding opinion also puts in doubt a local bill Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club are seeking to get slots approved at the dog track. A referendum on the slots will go before county voters in November.

Bondi issued the opinion in response to a question from state gambling regulators regarding Creek Entertainment Gretna racetrack in Gadsden County. Voters there and in Washington County will decide on Jan. 31 whether they want to allow their local pari-mutuels to offer slots, something the Gretna owners are banking on.

But Bondi said the referenda would only be valid if they are first authorized by the Legislature or in the state Constitution, and Department of Business and Professional Regulation officials said they would comply with her opinion.

Lawyers for PBKC and the Gretna track rejected Bondi’s opinion, accusing her of being biased against the slot machines and promising that the courts will ultimately decide on the issue.

“This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an Attorney General has opined, for political issues, on a gambling issue outside of their authority,” attorney Marc Dunbar, one of the owners of the Gretna track, said in a statement. “Fortunately the Supreme Court has ruled on many occasions that these advisory opinions have no binding affect and more times than not are eventually rejected by Florida courts. I look forward to meeting her in court where law, not politics, will ultimately decide the issue.”

Animal lovers revive push end to greyhound racing in Florida

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Two animal-loving groups are pushing a bill that would allow greyhound tracks to stop racing dogs but allow the tracks to keep operating the more lucrative card rooms.

Dog racing attendance has declined, as have revenues, and most people who go to the tracks ignore the greyhounds in favor of placing their bets on poker.

GREY2K USA, a group formed to end dog racing around the country, and the national American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are both behind a measure sponsored by Delray Beach Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs, who sponsored a similar “decoupling” proposal earlier this year.

The ASPCA this morning released a poll showing that a majority of voters view the dog racing industry unfavorably. And GREY2K released a report documenting abuse and neglect of the dogs since 2004.

And the attendance and revenues have dropped dramatically at the tracks since 2004, according to data provided by state agencies included in the report.

Since 2004, the total amount gambled on racing at Florida’s 13 greyhound tracks, including the Palm Beach Kennel Club, decreased by 35 percent, paid attendance went down by 69 percent, and state tax revenues declined by 72 percent, the report found.

At many tracks, the dogs are forced to live in small cages and state regulators have written up at least nine cases of severe neglect associated with the kennels over the past seven years, the report found.

“Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane and must end,” GREY2K USA president and general counsel Christine Dorchak told reporters at a press conference outside the House chambers this morning.

Forcing dog track operators to run the greyhounds so they can keep their card rooms open “is a mandate for cruelty,” ASPCA director of government relations Ann Church said.

PBKC owners won’t stop racing the dogs and support the measure, as they did earlier this year, in part because it will make their races more lucrative. Only three of the state’s existing 13 dog tracks, including PBKC, are expected to continue to keep running the dogs if the bill becomes law. Supporters of the bill say it was not intended to end dog racing but to allow struggling tracks to stay open with other betting options.

(more…)

There goes ‘Swifty’: House OK’s no dog racing at dog tracks

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Greyhound racetrack operators, including Palm Beach Kennel Club, could drop dog racing but still run more lucrative card rooms under a measure approved 86-31 Tuesday by the state House.

Fans of horse-racing, jai-alai and dog-racing have been dwindling for decades in Florida and across the nation. The legislation (CS/HB 1145) would lift the current state requirement that dog tracks must run greyhound racing if they’re also going to run card rooms.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said, “Nothing in this bill expands gambling.”

Critics, though, didn’t see it that way.

“Maybe this is a way to fix Florida,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. “But this kind of expansion is doing nothing but feeding an addiction.”

Representatives of Palm Beach Kennel Club have said it would continue to run live races but they support lifting the racing requirement because they believe it would clean up the industry and boost track revenue drawn from simulcast racing.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill (CS/SB 1594), which is still awaiting full approval from that chamber.

Florida Crystals and suitemates pony up $100,000 for Scott inaugural

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 by George Bennett

West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals Corp. contributed the maximum $25,000 this week to Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s inaugural festivities. And three other entities listing the same Clematis Street office suite address as Florida Crystals kicked in $25,000 apiece as well.

See the complete list of contributors by clicking here.

The four $25,000 contributors from the same office suite are Florida Crystals Corp., Sun Corn Inc., Agro-Industrial Management and Florida Pioneer Investments.

Florida Crystals’ rival, U.S. Sugar Corp., contributed $25,000 to the inaugural. During his GOP primary against Bill McCollum, Scott blasted the state’s $197 million purchase of 27,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration and slammed U.S. Sugar’s contributions to McCollum.

Other local contributors to the inaugural include the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which donated $5,000, and Palm Beach Credit Adjustor Inc., which gave $10,000.

Contributions topped $800,000 through Monday.

Gambling in the Glades?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Fresh off vacation, Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson said a casino might be just the boost the embattled Glades region needs.

“It is something to think about,” he said.

Aaronson, a cruise maven and tourism booster, also said the county should do more to help bring slots to the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The club, he said, has been at a “disadvantage” since state lawmakers allowed Broward’s parimutuel facilities to have slots. (more…)

No slots of any kind for Palm Beach in new gambling deal

Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

The $12.5 billion deal Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminoles signed today takes slot machines off the table for the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Track owner Pat Rooney Sr., his lobbyists and track owner Pat Rooney Sr. and some influential lawmakers had pushed for a Palm Beach County referendum in which voters could allow the track to expand its gambling operations to include slot machines. Senate President Jeff Atwater’s district includes the dog track.

But even the possibility of slots of any kind in Palm Beach County was a deal-breaker for the Seminoles, sources close to the negotiations said.

The final deal, which lawmakers must sign off on before it goes into effect, won’t allow slot machines or “slots-lite” – video terminals that look and play like the more lucrative Las Vegas-style slots – in Palm Beach or anywhere outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where they are already permitted.

The Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $150 million a year or more, depending on how much their casino operations bring in, for 20 years in exchange for giving them exclusive rights to slot machine gambling throughout the state.

The tribe also gets to keep its blackjack games at all of its seven location although lawmakers had wanted that limited to the Broward County facilities and another near Tampa.

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