January 10, 2017

Progress emerges on gaming compact but can they really do it this time?

CasinoFlorida lawmakers have inched closer to renewing a 20-year, multi-million dollar gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida by allowing owners of declining parimutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, have been actively negotiating with the Tribe and the governor’s office on a new gaming compact after a portion of the current one expired in October 2015, but the state can’t count on the revenue just yet.

Progress is so close the Senate has started starting drafting a bill but then canceled a meeting to hear the plan this week and will hear it later this month when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for pre-session hearings, Galvano told the Herald/Times.

For the first time in years, House leaders appear ready to allow some expansion of slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to appease members from industry-heavy districts. But, in return, they are also abiding by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s wishes to contract gaming that will lead to a net reduction of live, active permits throughout the state.

The idea, said Diaz, is to allow owners of stagnant dog track or jai-alai fronton operations to sell their live gaming permits to others seeking to obtain a slots license, and to “put the dormant permits out of their misery.” More here. 

October 05, 2016

Genting pursues marina plan on Miami Herald site without resort

via @AndresViglucci

Malaysian casino operator Genting, which has been pursuing plans for a marina for large yachts at the old Miami Herald property on Biscayne Bay, got a boost when the Miami River Commission endorsed the idea this week.

The commission, which has no approval power but advises local governments on development along the river, voted to support the marina plan 10-1 after a presentation from a Genting attorney on Monday. The plan also envisions that Genting would build a new public baywalk between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.

Genting sought commission support because it is asking Miami-Dade County environmental regulators to approve the transfer of 42 existing boat slips from two river marinas to the bay. A county manatee-protection plan strictly controls construction of powerboat slips in the river and bay to protect the endangered marine mammals and their habitat.

The formal hearing was the first public confirmation by Genting, which bought the Herald property in 2011 for $236 million and announced plans for a massive casino resort on the site, that it intends to pursue approval for the 50-slip marina independently of development on dry land. The marina and baywalk were both part of Genting’s original vision for the property.

The company, which has been unsuccessful in persuading the Florida Legislature to approve gambling on the site, has said in the past that it still intended to build a hotel there, although without a casino. Genting has never submitted any plans to that effect to the city, however.

But Genting did submit marina plans to the county, and in July followed up with a letter proposing the slip transfers, prompting speculation that it was proceeding with that proposal without the resort piece. That’s something Genting attorney Spencer Crowley confirmed at the hearing. Story here. 

July 27, 2016

Genting seeks deal to accelerate Biscayne-based marina, despite county's manatee protections

via @AndresViglucci

Casino operator Genting, which has been seeking permits for a 50-yacht marina at its property at the old Miami Herald site in downtown Miami since 2013, has floated an unusual proposal to Miami-Dade County environmental regulators to goose approval of the slow-moving application.

It’s asking the county’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources to allow the company to transfer existing boat-slip permits from properties on the Miami River owned by a scion of the Matheson family — something county regulators say has never been done.

Under the county’s manatee protection plan, which strictly limits construction of new powerboat slips in the river and bay to protect the endangered marine mammals and their habitat, Genting subsidiary Resorts World Miami is eligible for no more than eight slips at the Herald site, assuming that it could win approval from the hard-to-satisfy regulators.

In a July 5 letter to the county, though, Resorts World’s consultant, Kirk Lofgren of Ocean Consulting, outlined a proposal to transfer 42 slip permits now attached to Austral Marina — which Lofgren owns — and three parcels owned by Finlay Matheson on which he operates a marina and has leased out space to Apex Marine, a repair and maintenance boatyard. Matheson is a prominent descendant of the family that gave the land for Crandon Park on Key Biscayne to the county in exchange for construction of the Rickenbacker Causeway, and that also donated a portion of the land for Matheson Hammock Park. Story here. 

July 07, 2016

Supreme Court is out for the summer, but rulings over death penalty and gaming are not

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colThe Florida Supreme Court released its final round of rulings for the summer Thursday and issued a rare clarification of its workers compensation decision of last month, but it also left unresolved two of the most controversial issues to come before the court this year: the death penalty and expansion of slot machines. 

The court postponed rulings on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty until its next term begins in late August, leaving the state's procedure and the 388 inmates on death row in limbo for potentially several more months.

The ruling is expected as part of a series of hearings the court held in May and June over cases challenging the state's death penalty law passed by lawmakers in March, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in in Hurst v. Florida that the state’s sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. The court has stayed two executions in the wake of the Hurst ruling, heard arguments in more than a dozen death penalty cases, and has not yet unanswered whether longtime Death Row inmates should be afforded new sentencing hearings.

The court also heard arguments in June about whether a 2010 state gaming law allows counties to expand slot machines without legislative approval.

Both decisions could have wide-ranging ramifications and could potentially provoke criticism, controversy and unleash an election-year debate over two highly-charged issues.

Three of the seven sitting justices on the bench are up for a merit-retention vote in November -- Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston.

The death penalty questions before the court were spawned by the January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s death sentencing system unconstitutional because it gave too little power to juries. For decades, Florida jurors issued bare majority recommendations, with judges ultimately imposing the death penalty.

The opinion evolved from a similar ruling in a 2002 case, Ring v. Arizona, which held that juries in that state should have the sole authority to decide on aggravating circumstances that made someone eligible for the death penalty. Alabama, Florida and Delaware are the only three states in the nation that do not require an unanimous jury to impose the death sentence and Florida officials believed the jury’s “advisory” role was sufficiently different to allow the court to differentiate Florida from the Arizona ruling. 

The decision forced the Legislature to rewrite its death-penalty sentencing law to require juries to unanimously vote for every reason, known as aggravating factors, that a defendant might merit a death sentence. The decision to impose the death sentence requires 10 of 12 jurors.

The fact that the court went on its summer recess without issuing an opinion, however, doesn't necessarily mean there won't be one to come before the court issues opinions again in late August. 

Martin McClain, a lawyer who has represented more than 250 defendants condemned to death and presented arguments before the court in June, said Thursday that in 2009 he was appealing the death sentence of an inmate issued its last opinions before it recessed for the summer one week, and the next week the opinion on his case was issued. 

"We have no idea what they will do,'' he said in an interview. He noted that there are two people on death row in which juries recommended a life sentence but a judge overrode it with a death sentence and the court may be taking its time to consider the impact of those cases.

"We now have a statute that says you can't get a death sentence if three or more people voted for life and yet we are still going to execute people who have a life recommendation? It's very difficult to determine what we're going to do. It makes sense to me the ourt wants to do it right ...It's also clear from the oral arguments that they are not in agreement."

On the gaming question, the  Florida Supreme Court heard argument from owners for Gretna Racing that the rural racetrack should be allowed to install slot machines because it has the approval of county voters. 

The case hinges on what appears to be conflicting legislative intent stemming from a 2009 law that modified the implementing law relating to slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties by allowing Hialeah Park to be eligible for a slots license.

The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel facility when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots. 

The Legislature again changed the law in 2010 to allow counties to authorize slot machines. Gretna argues that the change applies to all counties but the state argues that the slots expansion is only allowed if it is first approved by the Legislature or the state Constitution.

If the court sides with Gretna, it could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state. At least five other counties — Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington  — have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. A statewide gaming expansion would also invalidate the $120 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.



June 07, 2016

Justices wade into murky waters of gaming law to hear fight over expanding slots

Barrel racerDid the Florida Legislature quietly intend to allow counties to expand slot machines anywhere in the state in 2010 when it modified a statute that was initially intended to allow Hialeah Race Course to operate slot machines?

That was the question before the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday as owners for Gretna Racing argued that the rural racetrack should be allowed to install slot machines because it is has the approval of county voters.

"This is likely the easiest case you're going to deal with today,'' said Marc Dunbar, lawyer, lobbyist and part-owner of Gretna Racing, on the same day the court heard arguments on the death penalty. "It will turn on the interpretation of a single word: after."

But Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state, disagreed. He said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna's slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.

"You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,'' Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither.

If the court sides with Gretna, it could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state as at least five other counties — Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington — have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. It would also invalidate the $120 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Justice Barbara Pariente opened the questioning by suggesting that the ruling might not be as easy as Dunbar suggested.

Continue reading "Justices wade into murky waters of gaming law to hear fight over expanding slots" »

Galvano: Legislature had no intention to expand slots to counties, and therefore had no debate about it

Bill GalvanoSen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been at the core of the Legislature's gambling negotiations for the past seven years, said Tuesday that when lawmakers adopted the change to the state gaming law in 2010, they did not intend to open the door to the expansion of slot machines as Gretna Racing and five other pari-mutuels around the state are claiming.

"It was not the intent of the Legislature to open the door for counties to hold their own referendums to allow the expansion of slots,'' he said in an interview with the Herald/Times.

"In fact, the language as written -- and as explained at the time -- was that it needed to be a legislatively-approved referendum, or one that was brought forward by voters at a constitutional level. It was never what Gretna is attempting -- which flies in the face of the bill they claim is giving them the authority."

Galvano's remarks came on the day the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments over what could be a pivotal case as it relates to the future of gambling in Florida.

Gretna Racing, a Gadsden County racetrack and card room, argued before the court on Tuesday that it is entitled to operate slots at its facility because county voters gave them approval to operate the machines in 2012 and they meet the criteria because they have operated "flag drop" races for two years. If it succeeds, at least five other counties — Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington  — which have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons would install them as well.

Lawyers for Attorney General Pam Bondi responded, arguing that the 2010 law allows counties to authorize slot machines only if the Legislature authorized the referendum and agreed to expand gambling. Galvano and former state Sen. Dan Gelber, who attended the oral arguments Tuesday hearing on behalf of former Gov. Bob Graham, agreed.

Galvano, a lawyer, was point man for the House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010 during negotiations with the Seminole Tribe over the state's gaming compact. In 2009, the legislature modified the implementing law relating to slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward by allowing Hialeah Race Course to be eligible for a slots license.

The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots. 

By 2010, the Legislature wanted to clarify the terms of the referendum language referred to in the 2009 law, Galvano said.

"We didn't want the Hialeah expansion to muddy the waters,'' he said. "Instead, we reiterated that if we approved legislatively-expanded slots -- or a legislatively constitutional amendment...we didn't relinquish authority."

But instead of clarifying, the law has become another vehicle for gaming owners across the state to use as a method to get access to lucrative slots license -- which now are allowed only in Miami-Dade and Broward and at the seven casinos owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. 

If the court sides with Gretna, it could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state and invalidate the $250 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida

Galvano said the 2010 language was drafted by legislative staff and, in the process, "I did receive input from the entire pari-mutuel community and their representatives,'' he said.

"The actual drafting came down to the legislature and the bill drafting staff and counsel. I can tell you there was no one in the process at the time that was advocating for the independent ability of counties to expand based on referendum without legislative approval. That was not even part of the discussion."

Absent a public debate, there was pressure from the pari-mutuel industry who wanted the opportunity to bring slot machines to their ailing horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons, Galvano said. "But from the [legislative] members' standpoint, it was understood there would be an opportunity for Hialeah to expand, but that we were not expanding anywhere else."

According to the legislative archives, quoted in the attorney general's brief, Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, asked Galvano during the 2009 debate on the gambling bill whether it "would allow for the slot machines at the pari-mutuel facilities” outside Miami-Dade and Broward and whether “a local area would need to have a referendum, and in order to do that, they would have to come back to the House or to the Legislature to get approval for the referendum?”

Galvano is recorded as having replied: “Yes, if you are talking about Class III games [which includes slot machines], you are correct. A county could come back to the Legislature, which could authorize that type of referendum. It could also be through constitutional amendment, [whether] through a joint resolution or a citizen petition.” 

Gelber, a Miami Democrat and gambling opponent, agrees that is how he perceived the debate when he served in the Legislature in 2009 and 2010. 

"In that decade, the Legislature never, if at all, would expand gambling -- unless it was forced upon them by a constitutional amendment,'' he said after the court hearing Tuesday. "The notion that that somehow authorized 65 other counties to start doing what the legislature refused to do every time it was brought before them is pretty absurd...

"Nobody was standing up and saying we're having a debate about 65 other counties,'' Gelber said. "The idea that in implementing that constitutional amendment, they would sort of under-the-the table give 65 other counties that same right is sort of absurd... If that had happened, I know a few of my colleagues whose heads would have exploded."

June 05, 2016

Tiny Gretna racetrack, brought to life by cunning creativity, could now shape future of gaming in FL

Barrel racingThe Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether a nascent, small racetrack in the impoverished North Florida town of Gretna will turn the tables on the state’s gambling future.

The issue before the court is whether Gretna Racing is entitled to slot machines because voters approved a countywide referendum in 2012. If the court agrees, the ruling will go far beyond rural Gadsden County.

It will have repercussions from Palm Beach and Naples to Jacksonville, and could usher in the explosive growth of gambling across the state. It could also change the terms of the $250 million-a-year gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida —which is invalidated if slot machines are allowed outside of Miami-Dade and Broward.

At least five other counties—Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington — have already voted to bring casinos to their stressed horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. They each have already completed applications for a slots license and Palm Beach has announced it could install them within weeks. Other counties, including Duval and Marion, are prepared to conduct a referendum, too, if the court agrees with Gretna.

If the court rejects Gretna’s argument, however, the pressure will be back on legislators to fix what many consider a porous gaming regulatory structure — rife with room for legal loopholes, pursued by gambling lobbyists to win slots licenses, and subject to inconsistent interpretations by Florida regulators. Story here. 

May 13, 2016

Politico posts Seminole Tribe's financial details, so Tribe drops its attempt to seal deposition

After waiting three days and drawing a lawsuit from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Politico of Florida on Friday published profit details from the transcript of Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, prompting the Tribe to declare its request for an emergency hearing "moot." 

"Because the Court can no longer afford the Tribe meaningful relief, the Tribe hereby withdraws its Emergency Motion for Protective Order, and responds in opposition to POLITICO’s Motion to Intervene,'' wrote the Michael Moody on behalf of the tribe.  Download Tribe withdraws motion.

Politico, the online news site, obtained Allen's transcript on Tuesday as part of a public records request of depositions in the pending case before the U.S. District Court's Northern Florida division, but it chose not to write about the information or to make the document public.

On Wednesday, the tribe sought an emergency hearing to force Politico to seal a copy of a deposition given by Allen until it could redact the annual gaming revenue that was released by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as part of a public records request. The tribe argued that the information was a trade secret and the state had informally agreed to withhold the information from the public record. 

Politico's lawyers, and Florida public records advocates, argued the tribe's request -- and the state's alleged consent -- was an unconstitutional prior restraint of a public document and Politico asked to intervene in the pending case. 

The tribe sued the State of Florida last October for allegedly breaching its gambling compact and for failing to negotiate in good faith. Allen was deposed as part of the lawsuit last month and, the tribe argues, the state agreed not to release the transcripts of any depositions without prior review from the tribe.

On Friday morning, Politico published a report quoting Allen saying that the tribe “generated $2.2 billion in gaming revenues” in 2014 and noted that Allen had previously been quoted as citing that revenue number in the past. 

Those revenue figures were consistent with the numbers used by state economists when assessing the impact of proposed gaming legislation last session and were consistent with projections from a Spectrum Gaming analysis sought by the Florida Legislature in 2013. 

The tribe's argued that the court should seal the document so that it can release a redacted copy of the transcript, arguing that it is a protected trade secret. 

Barbara Petersen, attorney and president for the First Amendment Foundation, told the Herald/Times there is no exemption in this case for a trade secret.

"The Seminole Tribe has no authority to assert a trade secrets exemption,'' she said. "It's a public record in the hands of DBPR."

"It's troubling when the state is willing to negotiate into private negotiations over the public's rights of access to information,'' said Mark R. Caramanica, lawyer for Politico in an interview with the Herald/Times. 


May 11, 2016

Genting sues Miami-Dade, seeking court approval to operate casino at Omni site

Genting Group, the Malaysian casino operator whose plan to build a massive gambling resort in downtown Miami has been stalled by legal and political setbacks, is suing Miami-Dade County and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to force the state to allow card games and slots at its property in the old Omni mall.

The novel legal tack seems designed to get around a 2014 denial by state regulators of Gulfstream Park’s request to move a pari-mutuel permit to the Omni, where the Hallandale Beach racetrack had an agreement with Genting to establish a casino.

The lawsuit, filed April 27 by Genting real-estate division Resorts World Omni, asks a judge to pre-emptively declare it lawful for Gulfstream to run a casino at the Omni. That order, if granted, would preclude Miami-Dade police and state prosecutors from filing criminal charges against the Omni casino operators.

“The purpose of the action is to ensure that our review of the relevant laws is accurate and to provide clarity and certainty that the activities contemplated by the lease are permissible,’’ said Chris Kise, an attorney with the Tallahassee office of Foley & Lardner who filed the suit on behalf of Resorts World. Story here. 


March 17, 2016

Future of gaming in Florida will be decided by courts; special session 'unlikely'

Casino picWhen legislators finished their annual session last week without a gaming bill or a compact with the Seminole Tribe, they raised the stakes on the future of casinos in Florida, and it’s precisely where gaming opponents want it.

Instead of lawmakers deciding the future of expanded gambling, that decision will now be made by the courts in pending lawsuits before the Florida Supreme Court and a federal judge.

The court could conclude that lawmakers have no authority to authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties without statewide voter approval, thereby neutering the Legislature’s influence. It could say that only the Legislature can decide where to put new games.

Or a third option — the most explosive of all and the one the plaintiffs are hoping for — could open the door to unprecedented expansion of slot machines if the court rules that Palm Beach and Gadsden counties could seek permits to install slots machines because local voters have approved it.

“It could become a free-for-all for slot machines across the state,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the House’s chief negotiator who spent the last six months trying to work out acompact with the governor and the tribe, as well as a gaming bill that suited the Senate and the diverse interests of the pari-mutuel industry.

“If that happens, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The pari-mutuels across the state will argue they have some vested right to slot machines, and they will fight tooth and nail to make sure their legislators are not voting against them.” Story here.