State asks appeals court to reconsider slot machine case

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Calling it a “monumental change,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday asked an appeals court to reconsider a far-reaching ruling that could lead to slot machines at several dog and horse tracks.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last month ordered state regulators to award a license for slot machines to a facility in the small town of Gretna, 25 miles west of Tallahassee. The ruling stated regulators should have approved slot machines because voters in Gadsden County approved a referendum authorizing them.

The ruling was decided by a 2-1 margin, but Bondi’s office wants the entire 15-member court to review the case.

If left unchallenged, the decision could have wide impact: Voters in Lee, Brevard and Palm Beach counties as well as the north Florida counties of Hamilton and Washington have approved similar referendums. Slot machines are currently limited to south Florida tracks and casinos run by the Seminole Tribe.

Allen Winsor, the state’s solicitor general, argued in a court filing that the appeals judges misinterpreted state law.

“According to the panel majority, the Legislature intended to allow this jaw-dropping gambling expansion without any further action,” wrote Winsor.

State regulators had turned down the slot machine request due to a legal opinion by Bondi, who maintained slot machines were only allowed at tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that authorized slot machines in the two counties.

Creek Entertainment Gretna opened the track in December 2011 featuring the rodeo-style sport of barrel racing. The facility offers flat track horse racing as well as poker rooms and betting on races held at other tracks. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation turned down a request for slot machines in late 2013.

Appeals Judge Robert Benton wrote last month that regulators did not base their denial on any errors or omission in the application and instead relied on Bondi’s interpretation. He said Gadsden County was allowed to hold the referendum under a wide-ranging law passed by legislators that authorized a current agreement with the Seminole Tribe that allows them to operate card games such as blackjack.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, had pushed to have legislators review the ruling during an ongoing special session. But Bradley, whose committee oversees gambling issues, said on Friday that legislative leaders decided to keep the special session focused on the state budget.

The decision could likely wind up before the Florida Supreme Court. The appeals judges in their decision asked the high court to review the case.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.