The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday granted a request by former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to present arguments in the high profile case over the future of slot machines in Florida. Download Supreme Court Order
Graham, who is represented by Dan Gelber, a Miami lawyer and former state legislator, filed a motion filed with the court on Wednesday asking to be allowed to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the Gretna Racing v. the Department of Business and Professional Regulation case so he could "argue that Gretna Racing's interpretation of [state law] contradicts the Florida Constitution's prohibition against lotteries." Download Graham Gretna
The case, which has not been scheduled for oral arguments yet, is shaping up to be a pivotal one in determining the future of gambling in Florida and could have immediate implications on the gaming compact signed between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe.
Gretna Racing, a consortium with the Poarch band of Creek Indians, argues that it should be allowed to offer slot machines at its cardroom and race track west of Tallahassee. Gadsden County voters approved a referendum in 2012 that authorized the slot machines at the facility, which had persuaded the state to grant it the country's first pari-mutuel license for rodeo-style barrel racing. A court later ruled that the state had issued the barrel racing pari-mutuel permit in error but the company continues to operate its cardroom and pursue slot machines at its venue off of I-10 in North Florida. It argues that the referendum is enough to allow it to install the profitable machines.
The First District Court of Appeals, however, rejected Gretna Racing's argument in October, concluding that legislative approval is needed to allow any community to expand slot machines. Depending how the Supreme Court rules on that argument will have bearing on Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington counties which also have approved referendums seeking to allow slot machines.
Graham, however, raises doubts about whether the Legislature has the authority to authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. The Florida Legislature in 2009 passed a law expanding slot machines in Miami-Dade County by authorizing them at Hialeah race track. Lawmakers said giving Hialeah slot machines was a natural extension of the 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that authorized slot machines at seven existing horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Graham's motion cites the dissenting opinion from Judge Scott Makar of the First DCA who said: “it is not at all clear that the Legislature has the constitutional authority to expand the use of slot machines outside of the geographic areas of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties." Graham noted that neither DBPR nor Gretna Racing addressed that issue during the appeal.
(It is also possible that Attorney General Pam Bondi, who must represent the Legislature in the case, is also unlikely to raise the constitutional question about the Legislature's authority.)
"Bob Graham’s brief, moreover, would focus on the Florida Constitution, its prohibition against lotteries, and the legislative history surrounding that prohibition—areas that the parties might largely disregard,'' his motion said. He also noted that he has conferred with the parties and while Gretna Racing objects to his request to present arguments, the department consents.
Photo: Courtesy of Creek Entertainment Gretna