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Bob Graham weighs in against expanding slot machines

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Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham on Monday filed his friend-of-the-court brief with the state Supreme Court, arguing against the expansion of slot machines.

Graham’s brief is for a Gadsden County case in which the operators of a racetrack in Gretna say they should be allowed to also offer slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012.

Ultimately, though, the question before the justices is whether slot machines are allowed at all outside South Florida in areas where voters have already OK’d them. Six counties have done so: Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington.

Graham, a Democrat who served as governor 1979-87 and U.S. senator 1987-2005, argues that slots are essentially “lotteries,” and lotteries, unless expressly permitted, are otherwise banned by the state constitution.

A lottery, Graham says, is “consideration (money) given for a chance at a prize (a jackpot).”

“To expand the reach of slot machines, the people of Florida must amend the Constitution,” he says. “And, in fact, since 1978, Florida voters have thrice rejected full-scale gambling, with the closest vote coming in 1994, when an overwhelming 61 percent of the voters rejected an amendment that would allow full-scale gambling.”

He relies on a 1970 Florida Supreme Court case that clarified legal and illegal gambling, putting slots squarely in the illegal camp.

The anti-gambling expansion groups No Casinos also filed a brief Monday, saying in a press release that their legal argument also “is strong and rooted in the Florida Constitution.”

“We are confident that the briefs filed by No Casinos and former Gov. Graham will help the Court have a full picture of the limits that the state constitution places on gambling,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said. “Floridians (should) have the ultimate voice in deciding whether or not to allow gambling expansion in our state.”

Oral arguments have not yet been ordered or scheduled. The case is Gretna Racing v. Florida Dep’t of Business and Professional Regulation, No. SC15-1929.

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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