Florida Supreme Court to Rule on Slots Dispute

In an ongoing legal action that could possibly affect the future operation of slot machines at Gulfstream Park and other Broward County (Fla.) pari-mutuel facilities, the Florida Supreme Court agreed March 27 to rule on certain key issues in the dispute.

At the center of the lawsuit are allegations that pro-slot groups committed fraud in obtaining sufficient petition signatures to get their initiative into the 2004 general election, where it was narrowly approved by Florida voters. Among other charges, the lawsuit claims that contractors hired by pro-slots groups in some instances used falsified signatures in order to meet petition requirements.

A Leon County (Fla.) circuit judge in January 2005 ruled against the anti-slots groups, which first filed its complaint only five weeks before the election, saying elections cure any alleged problems.

Florida’s First District Court of Appeals eventually reversed that judgment, remanding the lawsuit back to trial court, where, according to the opinion, the slots initiative could be judged valid or invalid.

In making that ruling, the DCA asked the Florida Supreme Court  to rule on whether a voter-approved amendment can be later invalidated, specifically in the case where fraud is alleged in a pre-election legal action. The Florida Supreme Court in January ordered a stay on the remanded trial, noting it would be unnecessary, and possibly never needed, depending on how the state’s highest court ruled on the matters.

Wilbur Brewton, an attorney representing the pro-slots Floridians for a Level Playing Field, claims legal precedents suggest that any alleged problems in petition-gathering processes are historically cured by voters.

“If the voters are clear on the issue, and vote in its favor, then, realistically, it really doesn’t matter how it got on the ballot,” he said. “We deny there was any fraud involved. The line of cases we have used in our argument say the electorate is the final rule on it.”

Attorneys representing the anti-slots group, which includes Floridians Against Expanded Gambling and the Humane Society of America, among others, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Based on his experience, Brewton said the Florida Supreme Court likely won’t begin to hear oral arguments on the case until at least early fall, and it could likely take several more months before an opinion is delivered.

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