Florida Slots Amendment Suit Dismissed

Lawsuit over Florida slots amendment is dismissed

An almost five-year-old lawsuit over how Florida voters were allowed to decide if slot machines could be legal at certain state pari-mutuel facilities has been jointly dismissed, according to court records.

Parties that included interests of South Florida pari-mutuel facilities such as Gulfstream Park and anti-gaming expansion advocates agreed March 23 to drop the lawsuit, which had been originally filed in Leon County Circuit Court in September 2004.

Wilbur E. Brewton, an attorney representing the pro-slots Floridians For A Level Playing Field advocacy group, read from a joint statement regarding the dismissal when contacted for comment.

“The parties have reached a settlement agreement that does not assume the correctness of any of the parties’ positions,” he said. “This subject litigation commenced in 2004, and since almost five years have passed, the parties believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to conclude the matter.

“The parties have agreed to a non-disclosed settlement, and are pleased to see the case concluded.”

At the center of the dispute were allegations that pro-slot groups committed fraud in obtaining sufficient petition signatures to include their initiative in the 2004 general election. Among other charges, the lawsuit claims contractors hired by pro-slots groups in some instances used fraudulent signatures in order to meet petition requirements.

The pro-slots side denied the fraud allegations, and also argued that an election “cures” any affiliated issues, because voters have decided for themselves.

Florida voters in 2004 narrowly approved an amendment that gave Broward County and Miami-Dade County residents the right to decide if they wanted slots at pari-mutuel facilities.

A victory by the anti-slots side, which included the Floridians Against Expanded Gambling advocacy group, could have possibly shut down the slots operation at Gulfstream and other pari-mutuels in Broward County.

Miami-Dade County voters approved a measure to allow slots in January 2008. Among those eligible to develop slots parlors in that locale is Calder Race Course, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

The lawsuit made its way through several stops in Florida’s court system. A Leon County circuit judge in January 2005 ruled against the anti-slots groups, but the Florida First District Court of Appeals later reversed that judgment, remanding the lawsuit back to the original state court for trial.

As part of its decision, the appeals court in 2007 asked the Florida Supreme Court to rule on “questions of great importance,” including whether a voter-approved amendment can be later invalidated. The Supreme Court later that year said it would not rule on the issues. Since that time, the case was relatively dormant until a status conference was held last month.