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Florida Supreme Court orders oral argument in slots case

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The Florida Supreme Court has set June 7 as the date it will hear oral argument in a case on expanding slot machines in the state.

The announcement was in a docket filing added Thursday. “A maximum of 20 minutes to the side is allowed for the argument,” the entry says.

Gretna Racing, the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines, brought the matter against state gambling regulators. The track is run by The Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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.

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

The track’s lawyers have countered that the issue has been asked and answered, quoting a 2004 state Supreme Court decision.

“We have long since settled the question … of whether certain legislatively described gambling machines, such as slot machines, constituted lotteries prohibited by the state constitution,” the court said. “We concluded they did not.”

Graham’s request to participate in oral argument was previously turned down. His friend-of-the-court brief was allowed in.

Gretna city officials have said adding slots will boost the local economy and create jobs at the track site, which eventually will have a “convention hotel” and “restaurants and shops on or near the racetrack,” according to their brief. Nearly a quarter of the town of about 1,400 is below the federal poverty line, census records show.

The Supreme Court case comes after the 1st District Court of Appeal ping-ponged on the question, with a three-judge panel first ruling that slot machines were allowed because Gadsden County voters had approved a referendum authorizing them. Attorney General Pam Bondi asked for a rehearing, and another panel ruled 2-1 against the Gretna track.

One reason the outcome was different is because one of the judges who considered the case retired and was replaced by a different judge.

The track also had tried to run barrel racing for a pari-mutuel license that would have let them add slots and a card room.

The case is Gretna Racing v. Florida Department 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

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