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Supreme Court takes up gambling this week

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Thanks to No Casinos, gambling is on the docket this week in the Florida Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the justices will hear oral argument in a case on whether to expand slot machines in the state.

Then on Thursday, legal briefs are due in a review of a proposed constitutional amendment limiting gambling.

Both matters involve the Orlando-based gambling expansion opposition group.

Should the Supreme Court rule against slots expansion, that would take some steam out of the amendment drive.

The proposal would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

No Casinos filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing slots expansion and provided the seed money for Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment.

John Sowinski, who heads No Casinos, also chairs Voters in Charge, though the two are separate entities.

In the slots case, a Gadsden County racetrack is seeking to add the machines. It brought the matter against state gambling regulators. The track is run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as Gretna Racing

The Creeks argue they should be allowed to offer slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012. They’re supported by the county and the city of Gretna.

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

In 2004, Florida voters approved another constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties if voters OK’d it in referendums there.

And at least two other counties, Duval and St. Lucie, now are moving on their own slots referendums. Gambling interests there are hoping to get ahead of the game if the court rules favorably on slots.

The Jacksonville City Council is considering a proposal to put a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot allowing slots at the bestbet facility in Arlington, according to a Florida Times-Union report.

And the owners of Fort Pierce Jai-Alai & Poker are pressing the St. Lucie County Commission to place a slot-machine referendum also on the November ballot, TCPalm reported last month.

Both No Casinos and former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham have said slots are illegal “lotteries” banned by the state constitution unless expressly permitted by law.

The Voter Control of Gambling amendment, slated for the 2018 statewide ballot, would give Floridians more control over the expansion of gambling in the state.

It too is before the Supreme Court, which must ensure it covers only one subject and that its ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

It’s not clear, however, whether the amendment will be retroactive, knocking out some games now being played in Florida.

That could affect the state’s finances. Florida takes in revenue by taxing gambling proceeds, including $150 million-$200 million yearly from slot machines.

Both the slots suit and amendment are moving after lawmakers failed to approve a renewed agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida this past session.

The deal would have allowed the tribe continued exclusivity to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.

But it also would have effectively expanded gambling, including letting the tribe add roulette and craps at their casinos.

The proposed amendment would not affect Indian gambling operations because they are regulated under federal law.

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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.

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