In 2009, Florida passed a slot machines law that gave pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties permission to install slots. That law had a clause in it that North Florida’s Creek Entertainment Gretna, located in Gadsden County and owned by Gretna Racing, attempted to exploit by applying for a slot machines license in 2013. The license application was denied, and the pari-mutuel is now appealing the decision.
What makes this appeal so significant is that it could have much farther reaching implications should Gretna Racing win the case.
As of right now, no pari-mutuel horse track, greyhound track or jai-alai fronton outside of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties has installed slot machines, due to the imposed law. If Gretna Racing wins its case, not only will other facilities seek the right to present slot machines in Florida, but it will result in the forfeiture of a 20 year, $1 billion compact with Seminole Tribe.
Legal Interpretation of Slot Machines Law
At the heart of the matter is the legal interpretation of the slot machines law established in 2009. Five years prior, voters approved slot machines at seven pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade, followed by a 2009 amendment that added Hialeah Park to the list of eligible properties in those counties. However, the 2009 law also defined an “Eligible facility” as:
“…any licensed pari-mutuel facility in any other county in which a majority of voters have approved slot machines at such facilities in a countywide referendum held pursuant to a statutory or constitutional authorization after the effective date of this section in the respective county…”
When the Creek Entertainment racetrack was first built, the owners had every intention of installing slot machines upon receiving a license. Officials in Gadsden County, ranked one of the poorest counties in the state, were excited about the idea, as were voters when they overwhelmingly approved a referendum in 2012 to bring slot machines to Gretna.
Judge seems to Favor Gretna Racing
Marc Dunbar, attorney for Gretna Racing, began his opening statements by advising 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Nikki Ann Clark that, in its simplest terms, the slot machines law had a more broad meaning.
Judge Clark immediately interrupted Mr. Dunbar, saying that the law “seems to allow a pari-mutuel facility, even not located in Broward or Miami-Dade, to (get a permit for) slot machines if there’s a referendum that passes. And then it seems that the county passed a referendum. What am I missing?”
In response, Dunbar stated, “You’re missing the same thing I’m missing, which apparently is the word ‘enacted’, which the attorney general has attempted to graft into the statute qualifying the referendum to a referendum that occurred via some statutory or constitutional entitlement that was enacted after the passage of the act. You’ve hit the nail exactly on the head,” said Dunbar.
State’s attorney Jon Glogau disagreed. He argued that the law 2009 slot machines law formed “a contingent approval for all the other counties, saying if you have a referendum and it passes, after we give you specific authority, to be exempt from the prohibitions.”
Rock and a Hard Place for Seminole Tribe
As stated before, if Gretna Racing wins its case, the Seminole Tribe would no longer be obligated to pay annual contributions to the Florida’s tax coffer based on a 20-year, $1 billion compact with the state. But in turn, the Seminoles would gain a great deal more competition from slot machines at pari-mutuels outside Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
The Seminoles are already suffering from a banked table games compact with the state that is about to expire in July. As per another 5-year, $1 billion contract with the state, only 7 Seminole-owned casinos are permitted to offer table games like blackjack in Florida. The tribe is working hard to get that deal renewed, but the expiration date is looming close.
If the Seminoles lose their monopoly on Florida table games, and are forced to compete with more pari-mutuels installing slot machines all across the state, it could spell disaster for the tribe’s traditionally high casino revenue.