Racetrack seeking slots files legislative documents to boost case

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A north Florida racetrack seeking slot machines is going back into legislative history to bolster its case.

Gretna Racing’s lawyer on Tuesday submitted documents from the 2009 session to sway the Florida Supreme Court to expand slots play throughout the state.

A ruling for the track could result in what critics fear will be the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

Attorney Marc Dunbar filed budget negotiation paperwork as part of his client’s case before the court. The track is run by The Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The documents are “pertinent to the issues raised regarding legislative intent,” Dunbar said in his filing.

The state has said the Gretna track wants the court to “believe the unbelievable,” that “the Legislature left a loose string for voters in just one county to unravel (state law) by legalizing slot machines outside Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.”

Dunbar earlier had countered that laws mean what they say and legislative intent is “irrelevant.” Even then, “the limited legislative history favors Gretna’s interpretation,” he said.

The paperwork “walks through the progression of negotiations” as House and Senate members worked through competing gambling bills that session.

One bill (SB 836) would have “granted machine gaming (slots) as a matter of right for all pari-mutuel cardrooms in the state,” he said in his 161-page filing.

Another (HB 7145) would have “allowed for no machine gaming for any pari-mutuels” other than those already allowed under the state constitution.

Dunbar’s filing aims to show the compromise struck that year was essentially that counties could OK slots by passing a local referendum. And the Gretna track argues it should be allowed to offer slot machines because voters in fact approved them in 2012.

A favorable ruling could expand slot machines to all six counties where voters passed such referendums: Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington.

Opponents, such as No Casinos and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, have countered that slots are illegal “lotteries” banned by the state constitution unless expressly permitted by law.

The justices are scheduled to hear oral argument in the matter on June 7. The case is Gretna Racing v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, No. SC15-1929.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.