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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.

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.”

Gambling bill rewrite tweaked. Changes tax rates, keeps Internet cafes alive and stays out of barrel racing brouhaha

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff‘s latest rewrite of a sweeping gambling measure includes a few major changes but keeps intact the voter approval required for three casinos anywhere in the state and still would allow for Florida’s existing pari-mutuels to offer Las Vegas-style slot machines, again if voters give the thumbs up.

But Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, does make one big change in the 170-page amendment filed late Friday afternoon – instead of completely doing away with the “Internet cafes,” it would regulate them. The so-called “casinos on the corner,” operating now as sweepstakes games, would have to register with the state’s new gambling department (also included in her strike-all amendment), put up a bond and certify that the games comply with laws already on the books. A draft version of the measure released two weeks ago would have outlawed the Internet cafes that critics say prey on the poor. Palm Beach County commissioners voted yesterday to ban new Internet cafes from popping up in unincorporated areas.

The new version of the bill (SB 710) would still allow the state’s existing dog and horse tracks – including Palm Beach Kennel Club – and jai-alai frontons to offer slots if voters approve. But instead of having to spend $100 million to upgrade their facilities in exchange for the slots, the pari-mutuel operators would have to pay a one-time $125 million licensing fee.

The catch-all bill also does away with the tax parity the racinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties had hoped for. Now, the South Florida pari-mutuels would have an 18 percent tax rate on slots – down from the current 35 percent – but not until the proposed casinos are up and running. The casinos would pay a tax rate of 10 percent.

Unlike Bogdanoff’s recent draft, her latest proposal does nothing about barrel racing, now an authorized racing format at a Panhandle track and under consideration at another. Gov. Rick Scott has asked lawmakers to specifically address barrel racing, saying he does not believe the legislature intended to permit it. Her new measure also would not buy back four pari-mutuel permits but it would bar any new pari-mutuel licenses from being issued after July.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is slated to vote on her bill Monday afternoon, the day before the 2012 legislative session officially begins.

House Speaker to feds: Gambling talks “at an impasse”

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Larry Cretul asked federal officials to intervene in gambling talks between Florida and the Seminoles, saying negotiations “are at an impasse.”

Cretul wrote a letter today to National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman George Skibine, who met with the speaker and the House’s chief gambling negotiator Bill Galvano yesterday, asking the feds to fine the Indians or shut them down.

Crist this week said he wanted lawmakers to address the gambling compact in a special session in December.

Cretul’s letter indicates that’s not going to happen.

The Florida Supreme Court last year tossed an agreement signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminoles and lawmakers this year failed to pass a revised version of the pact.

Under Crist’s latest plan, the Seminoles would have paid $150 million a year to the state for education in exchange for Las Vegas-style slot machines and blackjack and other card games at its Hollywood and Tampa casinos as well as its Brighton and Big Cypress locales in Broward County.

The Seminoles have continued to run the games even without an agreement with the state, irking GOP House leaders and Attorney General Bill McCollum, who accuse the tribe of breaking the law.
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