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Court ruling could result in explosion of gambling permits

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

An appellate court’s ruling promises to further muddy the legal landscape of gambling in Florida.

A 1st District Court of Appeal opinion released Tuesday reversed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and ordered the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit. The department regulates gambling.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

The decision promises to result in an wave of new applications, gambling experts say, and comes on the same day the House is scheduled to take up the Senate’s already-passed omnibus gambling legislation for 2017.

The House, which is opposed to allowing more gambling in the state, is expected to amend the Senate bill with its own and go to conference to work out the differences.

The unanimous three-judge panel said the department’s denial of the permit, from West Flagler Associates, “was premised on an insupportable reading” of state law, and reversed.

West Flagler Associates operates Magic City Casino in Miami.

“It’s nice to have a victory, but we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Izzy Havenick, whose family operates the casino and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker.

He noted that the decision only allows the application to go forward but does not guarantee approval: “Hopefully, they’ll give it to us.”

Havenick said the new facility, which would be in downtown Miami about six miles from Magic City, would employ 300-350 people and offer jai alai, poker, a restaurant and an entertainment venue.

When asked what specific kinds of poker, he threw up his hands. “Whatever’s legal in a given week,” he joked.

He doesn’t yet have a name for the new location or a final development plan: “We stopped planning because we didn’t know what would happen.”

Judges Harvey L. Jay, III, Timothy D. Osterhaus and Allen Winsor concurred in the decision.

“We find that the plain meaning of (state law) creates two separate ways for permittees to obtain a summer jai alai permit and hold that the (DBPR’s) conflation of these two distinct permit opportunities improperly imposed unrelated timing requirements on the ‘new permit’ language,” the opinion said.

“A qualified pari-mutuel permittee ‘may apply to the division to convert its permit to a permit to conduct a summer jai alai fronton’ when its ‘mutuel play from the operation of such parimutuel pools for the (two) consecutive years next prior to filing an application under this section has had the smallest play or total pool within the county,” it added.

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

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