Foes Plan Appeal on Hialeah Casino Suit

Three southeast Florida pari-mutuels are asking the Supreme Court of Florida to consider a review of a lower court’s decision that authorizes Hialeah Park to have a casino with Las Vegas-style slot machines.

Calder Casino & Race Course, Greyhound track Magic City Casino, and Miami Jai-Alai filed a notice Nov. 1 seeking that review. That was the first step toward a possible appeal, if Florida’s highest court allows it, said Michael Olin, a Miami attorney who represents Magic City and Miami Jai-Alai.

John Brunetti, Hialeah Park’s owner, could not be reached for comment.

A Calder official said the Miami Gardens, Fla., track and its parent Churchill Downs Inc. do not comment on ongoing litigation.

The plaintiffs maintain that Hialeah cannot have a casino because it is not among pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade County and Broward County that are eligible under a referendum that statewide voters passed in 2005.

On Oct. 6, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled against Calder and its co-plaintiffs and upheld a state circuit court’s November 22, 2010 ruling that Hialeah is eligible for a casino under a 2010 state law.

Because the three other pari-mutuels lost in two courts, the Supreme Court of Florida is not required to review the case. Because of issues that include case load, that court usually does not review such cases.

Olin said his clients are asking Florida’s highest court to consider a review because the case has attracted considerable public interest in Florida.  If an appeal is heard, he said they will maintain that the appeals court did not correctly interpret the 2010 legislation.

If the appeals court’s Oct. 6 ruling is not overturned, there is a widespread view that the ruling could establish a precedent for allowing the Florida legislature to authorize the opening of casinos without approval of referendums by voters statewide or in counties.

Hialeah, located in Hialeah, Fla., is less than 15 miles from each of the three pari-mutuels that are attempting to prevent it from having a casino. Calder and Magic City have casinos with Las Vegas-style slot machines.  Miami Jai-Alai is constructing a casino within its building.

Following the Oct. 6 ruling, Hialeah has continued early-stage construction of a $150 million casino that it hopes to open late next year.

Hialeah last held Thoroughbred racing in 2001 and has not had a Thoroughbred permit since 2003. On Dec. 10 it will begin its third Quarter Horse meet using a Quarter Horse permit it obtained in 2009 from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
 

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