Slots backers 'going to court' over impasse

Lawmakers' inability to decide on regulation shouldn't be allowed to delay what voters have approved, they say.

Associated Press
Published May 11, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Slot machines generated a lot of conversation during the legislative session, but lawmakers couldn't agree on how to tax them - or even define them.

Now the parimutuel industry says it will go to court to get some answers. "We had a clear mandate from voters," said Daniel Adkins, who has spearheaded the effort to get slots at South Florida tracks and jai alai frontons. "I guess somebody didn't want a bill."

In fact, plenty of people don't want to see slot machines, including Gov. Jeb Bush.

House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, and Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, were also unenthusiastic about them.

"I just don't like gambling," Bense said last week. "Sorry."

But voters did approve an amendment to the Florida Constitution in November that gave Broward and Miami-Dade counties the option of having slot machines at parimutuel facilities.

The ballot measure specified that any revenue raised from taxing the slots would be used for public schools statewide, and the parimutuel industry said that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Four months later, voters in Miami-Dade rejected slots, while voters in Broward approved them. It was the first day of the two-month legislative session.

In the Capitol, lawmakers went to work on regulation and taxation legislation. But they ultimately got hung up on what kind of machines would be allowed.

The Senate backed a bill that would allow the parimutuels to install traditional slots like those found in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The House wanted to allow only bingo-based electronic gambling machines, like those already found in several Indian casinos around Florida. The two chambers couldn't reach a compromise and passed nothing.

The parimutuel industry, meanwhile, argues that the ballot measure can go into effect without any legislative action. The industry will try to get a judge to see it that way too.

"We will be definitely going to court," Adkins, an executive with the Hollywood Greyhound Track, said Tuesday. "Relatively soon."

Bush said lawmakers could be back in the Capitol in a special session if a judge rules that the Legislature has to act.

Complicating the matter is a federal law that lets Indian tribes negotiate for any kind of gambling allowed elsewhere in a state. The Seminole and the Miccosukee tribes have notified Bush they want to start negotiations - and they think the November vote allows them to upgrade to Las Vegas-style machines.

Federal law also puts a 180-day deadline on negotiations. If negotiations fail to produce an agreement after six months, the law says tribes can seek to bypass a state by going to court and, ultimately, the federal Department of the Interior.

Jim Shore, general counsel for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said the tribe is "waiting for the dust to settle" between the parimutuel industry and the state.