TALLAHASSEE — Florida's First District Court of Appeal has upheld a Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation's interpretation of what constitutes an "eligible facility" under the state's "slot machines" statue as it relates to Calder Race Course's operation of slot machines through its jai alai or thoroughbred horse racing permit.
According to the Sept. 25 First District Court of Appeal ruling, the court reviewed a set of appeals regarding the decision of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation's (DBPR) division of parimutuel wagering involving the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., and Calder Race Course Inc.
"The issue before us is whether the division erred by interpreting the statutory definition of 'eligible facility' to allow Calder to continue its slot machine operation even if it ceases thoroughbred racing and operates jai alai instead," Judge James Wolf wrote in the district court decision. "We find the division’s interpretations of the constitutional amendment and statutes which would allow Calder to present jai alai games in order to continue to conduct slot machine operations are the most reasonable."
The case stems from Calder's 2018 petition to the DBPR for a declaratory statement involving Calder's decision to stop thoroughbred racing and replace it with live jai alai. Calder inquired if it could maintain its "eligible facility" status and if it could use its jai alai permit instead of its thoroughbred horse racing permit to operate slot machines, according to the decision. The DBPR had ruled that Calder could switch to jai alai but that it could not operate slot machines under a summer jai alai license.
Calder argued in its appeal that "eligible facility" is defined as "the over-all areas" where betting takes place.
"Defining 'facility' too narrowly would not allow the slot machines to be located in connected buildings or anywhere on the premises that is not within the footprint of the actual racetrack or fronton," Wolfe wrote. "We, as did the division, reject this narrow interpretation."
Attorneys in the case are Donna Blanton and Brittany Adams Long of Radey Law Firm for the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Ben Gibson, Daniel Hernandez and Rachel Nordby of Shutts & Bowen LLP for Ocala Breeders’ Sales, Katherine Giddings, Tamara Malvin and Melanie Kalmanson of Akerman LLP for Calder Race Course, and Ross Marshman, chief appellate counsel for the DBPR.