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    Court keeps slot machines off the ballot

    A bid to get the Legislature to approve video lottery terminals at the state's 31 licensed racetracks and jai alai frontons also collapses.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 15, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- An attempt to get voters to allow slot machines at Florida horse and dog tracks was rejected Thursday in a 4-3 vote by the Florida Supreme Court.

    The ballot initiative would have asked voters to decide in November whether slot machines should be in parimutuel facilities in the state.

    Supporters say they'll rewrite the ballot summary and try again to make the late summer deadline for getting an issue on the ballot.

    An effort to get the Legislature to approve video lottery terminals at the state's 31 licensed racetracks and jai alai frontons also collapsed Thursday. South Florida senators, under pressure from Senate President John McKay, withdrew a budget amendment to funnel much of the profits to education if lawmakers passed a separate bill legalizing video lottery.

    The proposed constitutional amendment created a way to authorize and tax slot machines in counties where voters approved. But it failed the court's legal test that requires initiatives to be limited to a single subject and also failed a requirement that it clearly state the proposition.

    The court found the ballot summary misleading and "conclusively defective."

    Chief Justice Charles Wells was joined by Justices Major Harding, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince in the majority decision. Justices Leander Shaw, Harry Anstread and Barbara Pariente dissented.

    "This is a victory for the people of Florida," said Glenda Hood, president of No Casinos Inc., which opposed the slot machine initiative. "The court's ruling today is a victory for the people of Florida, our quality of life, the safety of our neighborhoods and for the character of our communities."

    No Casinos led the fight against ballot initiatives to legalize casino gambling in 1978, 1986 and 1994. Each time Florida voters resoundingly rejected initiatives that would have expanded gambling in the state.

    Ron Book, lawyer and lobbyist for two racetracks that would benefit from the constitutional amendment, said proponents of the measure will dissect Thursday's decision and try to get another proposal ready in time for the November ballot.

    "We've spent a lot of money and the court delayed this decision for a very long time," Book noted.

    Jack Cory, lobbyist for greyhound breeders who declined to join the petition drive, said the court defeat suggests that the parimutuel industry should have focused its energy on the Legislature all along.

    -- Staff writer Steve Bousquet and researcher Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.

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