Joe Negron Supports Florida Counties Which Want to Legalize Slot Machines at Local Racetracks
Florida Senate President Joe Negron is in favor of letting voters decide whether to legalize slot machines at the county level. Negron’s position might not be legal, though.
On November 8, voters in two different Florida countries approved ballot measure whcih would allow slot machines in their communities. Previously, six other Florida counties had approved similar ballot measures.
Negron Supports County-Level Voters
Joe Negron told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Tuesday that he thought the state should allow those counties to place slot machine in those parimutuel gaming facilities. The problem with that idea is whether it violates the recently signed compact with the Seminoles.
The contract requires the Seminole tribe to pay billions of dollars to the state of Florida over the first few years of the deal. The compact also states that the Seminoles do not have to pay those revenues, if the state approves certain forms of expanded gambling in the state. The deal allows for a certain amount of slots machines in parimutuel racetracks, but limits those provisions.
Backs the Judgment of Voters
Joe Negron acknowledged people’s concerns with expanded gambling, but told the reporters, “I’m not encouraging counties to do that, but if voters in a particular county approve more gaming opportunities, I think we should respect the decision of those citizens and those communities to shape the way they want their communities to look. And we should honor that, rather than stand in the way of it and substitute our judgment for the judgment of the voters.”
Other laws pertain to slot machine racinos in the state. In 2004, a state referendum was passed which allowed racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to house slot machines. It is uncertain whether other counties have the same right, though the Florida Supreme Court soon may have a decision.
Gretna Racing Lawsuit
Gretna Racing currently has a case before the Florida Supreme Court based on that very issue. Final arguments were heard in that case in June 2016, though the court remains in deliberations on the question. (Superior court rulings sometimes take many months to render a decision. Meanwhile, other cases are heard.)
Previously, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that county voters could not approve gambling. The appellate court instead ruled that only the legislature could decide. Gretna Racing appealed that decision to the Florida Supreme Court. At the heart of the question is a 2009 law which limited the expansion of gambling, as well as a 2010 compact signed with the Seminole Nation.
Parts of that 2010 compact expired in 2015, but the core principles still apply. One of those core principles is that the state of Florida cannot expand certain forms of gambling without the Seminoles’ approval — and slots are one of those games.
Seminole Gaming Compact
The Seminoles, who operate the Hard Rock Casinos and other brands in the state, have met with state lawmakers to discuss the issues, but no agreements have been reached.
In December 2015, Gov. Rick Scott reached an agreement on a gaming compact with the Seminoles. That deal promised $3 billion for Florida in exchange for 7 years of exclusive gaming for the Seminoles, but the legislature rejected the compact.
Before that compact was signed, the Seminoles had threatened to stop paying gambling taxes to the state. The matter appeared to be headed to court, but neither side wants to deal with the uncertainty that would bring. Indications are the federal courts would side with the Seminoles, but that can never be certain.
Federal Rulings on Florida Gaming Compact
In November 2016, a federal judge ruled that the state legislature was in violation of a compact, because it allowed horse tracks and dog tracks to allowed certain forms of electronic banked games. The compact said the Seminoles had exclusive rights to banked games in Florida.
The track owners and their supporters argued that the compact applied to live banked games and not electronic banked games. While the definition of a “banked game” differs from state to state, most states view any banked game as essentially the same. Legal precendents seem to favor this interpretation.
Thus, it appears that the expansion of gambling by individual Florida Counties would be defeated by legal challenges. That is not certain, but Sen. Joe Negron might be pushing Floridians down a path that is going to end in a costly legal defeat.