ORLANDO – Voters in Florida have voted down attempts to bring casino-style gambling to the state multiple times: in 1976, 1988 and 1994. They did, however, approve a measure that legalized slot machines in pari-mutuel facilities that had conducted horse racing in the previous two years, specifically in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and only in those two counties.
A group called No Casinos is opposing attempts to expand the reach of gambling establishments in the state of Florida for several reasons, according to John Sowinski, president of No Casinos.
“We think that the social economic costs far outweigh the benefits,” Sowinski recently told the Florida Record.
While Florida’s economy is largely built on tourism, the group believes that casino revenue “cannibalizes revenues from other sources.”
An attempt by Gretna LLC to obtain a license to add slot machines to a horse track outside of those two counties, in Gadsden County, to be exact, was denied by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in 2013, and led to a challenge in the 1st District Court of Appeal.
The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the division’s decision and the state Supreme Court is expected to take up the case later this year. No Casinos and former Florida governor and Sen. Bob Graham have both filed separate amicus briefs in the Supreme Court’s hearing.
No Casinos sees a constitutional question that must be considered when it comes to the expansion of gambling in the state. Article 10, Section 7 states that decisions about casino-style gambling must be made by voters, not the legislature.
Article 10, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution states that “Lotteries, other than the types of pari-mutuel pools authorized by law as of the effective date of this constitution [in 1968] are hereby prohibited in this state.”
The state has approved seven pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, after countywide referenda and local approval. There is one other facility, Hialeah Park, which was allowed to install slot machines after the state legislature authorized slot machines at pari-mutuel wagering facilities in counties that meet certain requirements – or where wagering on live racing has occurred in the previous two years. It’s the other requirements that allowed Hialeah Park to install slot machines.
“In 2004, voters passed an amendment that legalized slot machines in pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties,” Sowinski said. “We think it’s wrong for the legislators or the court to say it’s okay to have casino-style gambling even though the voters were promised that it would be limited to those places.”
The state’s constitution does not allow slot machines, craps or roulette, and it is the position of No Casinos that a voter-approved amendment to the constitution is the only way that these would be allowed outside the 2004 amendment that allowed slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Sowinski sees a potential for one of three different outcomes when the Supreme Court hears Gretna LLC’s appeal in later this year.
“The first is that Gretna wins," he said. "The second possibility is that the state wins based on the statutory framework, and not the constitutional argument (they could tell Gretna they are wrong and not address the constitutional argument). They could rule in our favor and say Gretna is not entitled to the expansion because it is not provided for in the constitution, and the legislature cannot do whatever it wants. If the court rules our way, it would preserve the status quo and take casino-style gambling of the table.”