Florida Supreme Court Denies Slot Machines Expansion

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that county referendums on whether pari-mutuels can or cannot add slot machines can only be held after state approval. The decision closed the door to a long-time effort that could have resulted in a massive slots expansion across the state.

Slot machines are currently allowed only in pari-mutuels located in the Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The two counties approved the addition of the gaming devices through referendums after voters passed a constitutional amendment on the matter back in 2004.

Gambling is considered illegal under Florida’s Constitution, with tribal casinos, pari-mutuels, and few other gambling options being the only exceptions.

Under Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, pari-mutuels located in any other part of the state beyond Miami-Dade and Broward will only be able to add slots after a “statutory or constitutional authorization” for a referendum has been issued. According to a 16-page opinion, released by Justice Charles Canady, the authorization must be present in the law and there is no such authorization in the law in its current form.

The Supreme Court case was given rise to after the racetrack at the town of Gretna tried to add slot machines at its premises. Gretna is located in Gadsden County, one of the eight counties where slot machines had been approved with countywide referendums. Owners of the Gretna racetrack had argued that the referendum had allowed them to add slot machines without the move having to be approved under state law. The Florida Supreme Court turned down that argument by a 6-0 vote on Thursday.

The Florida Senate tried to solve the slot machines issue by proposing a massive expansion of this type of gambling offering across the eight countries that had already approved the slots proposal. Here it is also important to note that a Senate bill could have expanded the state’s overall gambling industry massively. However, an opposing House bill and Florida lawmakers’ lack of willingness to compromise left the slot machine issues as well as the proposed gambling overhaul unsolved.

Commenting on the latest Supreme Court decision, Sen. Bill Galvano, the legislator behind the above-mentioned gambling expansion bill, said that the ruling could help him and his colleagues from the Legislature reach some form of agreement during the 2018 legislative session.

Sen. Galvano pointed out that, among other things, the confirmed authority of the state’s main legislative body has removed a major hurdle in their negotiations with Florida’s federally recognized Seminole Tribe. The tribe and the state have been trying to negotiate a new gambling compact that would be equally beneficial to both parties. So far, their attempts to negotiate such a deal have fallen through with very little progress accomplished.

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