Florida court opens door for slots trial

Oct 2, 2007 5:42 AM

It is not unusual for allegations of skullduggery to be made when citizen petitions are being circulated and opponents of the issue feel disenfranchised. So, little notice was given to a lawsuit filed by an anti-slots group in Florida.

Voters in Broward County cast enough ballots, although barely, in favor of racetrack slots to permit slots operations at Gulfstream Park, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA), Pompano Park, previously purchased by Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. (ISLE), and a jai-alai fronton that is still being developed by Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD).

In nearby Miami-Dade County, however, voters rejected the proposal, keeping Calder Race Course, owned by Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN), and privately-owned Flagler Greyhound Park out of the slots business.

Now, three years later, the Florida Supreme Court has permitted the lawsuit to go to trial by declining to rule on such key items such as whether a voter-approved amendment can be invalidated at a later date and whether the Floridians Against Expanded Gambling can prove fraud in the collection of referendum signatures.

An attorney representing the group was quoted as saying, "They (the court) ruled that the trial could go forward, and if we prevail at trial, then the slots initiative is invalid."

But an opposing lawyer denied that any fraudulent activities were done by the proponents of racinos. "I am fully convinced that the evidence will ultimately show there is no fraud. Would we have loved to have the Supreme Court issue a ruling that says our case law was right? Yes, that would have been nice. Now it’s just going to take more time and money," he stated.

The lawsuit was filed five weeks before the 2004 election. The first hearing in the case was held in January, 2005, and a circuit court judge ruled against the anti-slots group. However, that ruling was eventually reversed by the Florida First District Court of Appeals, leaving it up to the Florida Supreme Court to rule on specific questions.

Although the slots proponents lost the first time around at the ballot box in 2004, leaving Calder with what the owners described as "uneven playing field," the Miami-Dade County voters will tackle the issue again in January, 2008.