On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation denial of the permit application for a new Miami-Dade County jai alai fronton.
The 1st District Court of Appeal sided with West Flagler Associates, Ltd., in applying for what is called “summer” jai alai permit for a site in Florida City. The company already operates Miami’s Magic City Casino.
The three-judge panel based the decision on a 1992 law allowing the conversion of pari-mutuel permits to temporary summer jai alai permits. Miami-Dade pari-mutuels with the lowest handle for two consecutive years to transform to summer jai alai permits.
However, of those pari-mutuels that do not seek a change, other facilities can actively seek the permits.
After having the lowest handle in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal year, Hialeah Park chose not to change a quarter-horse permit to a summer jai alai permit. West Flagler applied for a new permit with the DBPR but was denied, in part, because it had received another summer jai alai permit based on numbers from Hialeah’s fiscal years of 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The agency contended that data from the 2010-11 fiscal year could not be used to apply for both permits.
Tuesday’s ruling, written by Judge Scott Makar, overruled the agency’s analysis of the law.
“The Division (of Pari-mutuel Wagering at DBPR) expressed a concern at oral argument that allowing a new summer jai alai permit to be issued each year based on a rolling two-consecutive-years approach would lead to a proliferation of summer jai alai permits,” the ruling says. “If the Legislature intended to allow a new permit, at most, every other year it could have written the statute to say so. And if it deems it a good policy to have this limitation, it can implement it legislatively; but we cannot interpret the language of the existing statute to achieve this result.”
The department “is still looking it over,” according to DBPR spokesperson Beth Frady. Apart from an additional appeal, the agency will be compelled to process West Flagler’s application. If the jai alai fronton is ultimately is granted to West Flagler, it could open the door to for a lucrative card room as well as the possibility of offering slot machines.