Florida's Highest Court Asked to Rule in Slots Dispute

In an ongoing legal action that could affect the future operation of slot machines at Gulfstream Park and other Broward County (Fla.) pari-mutuel facilities, the Florida First Court of Appeals recently asked the state's supreme court to rule on a certain key issues in the dispute.

At the center of the lawsuit are allegations that pro-slot groups committed fraud in obtaining needed petition signatures to land their initiative in the 2004 general election, where it was narrowly approved by Florida voters.

A Leon County (Fla.) circuit judge in January 2005 ruled against anti-slots groups that filed the original complaint about five weeks before the election. The appeals court then reversed that decision in an August opinion, remanding the lawsuit back to trial court, where, according to the opinion, the slots initiative could be declared invalid.

But in a Nov. 30 opinion that replaces the earlier version issued in August, the appeals court asks the Florida Supreme Court to rule on whether a voter-approved amendment can be invalidated later, specifically in the case where fraud is alleged in a pre-election legal action.

"Right now, the district court hasn't agreed on our position that any issues with the petitions are cured by the election," said Wilbur Brewton, a veteran Florida attorney who is part of the legal team representing the pro-slot Floridians for a Level Playing Field organization. "Now, it will go to the Supreme Court, where they can tell us our interpretations are right."

The Florida Supreme Court can choose not to hear the requests for rulings. The remand for trial is still included in the Nov. 30 opinion.

Gulfstream Park opened its slots operation in mid-November with more than 500 machines.