Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park

Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park

Coady Photography

Florida Court Hears Arguments in Gretna Suit

Simulcast and poker parlor's request for slot machines was denied by state.

Parties in a lawsuit over the state's denial of a request for slot machines at a simulcast and poker facility in Gadsden County made their cases before the Florida Supreme Court June 7.

The suit was filed by Gretna Racing against the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The state agency denied an application by Gretna Racing, which had offered controversial Quarter Horse barrel and flag-drop races in order to win a pari-mutuel license, to install slots.

The facility, located in an economically depressed area of Florida's northern panhandle, is called Creek Entertainment Gretna, which is a partnership between the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and developer David Romanik, an attorney and former president of Gulfstream Park.

Florida law permitted local referendums on slots at pari-mutuel facilities only in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but Gretna Racing appealed the ruling on the grounds a 2009 revision in the law created opportunity for other counties to have slots at pari-mutuel outlets as long as local voters approved—which they did in Gadsden County—in 2012.

Gretna Racing noted there was a 2009 revision to a statute that originally said "eligible facilities" must be located in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and they must have conducted live racing in 2002 and 2003. It argued the revision opened slots eligibility to any licensed pari-mutuel facility that has conducted live racing for two consecutive years prior to its request for a slots license.

Marc Dunbar, who represented Gretna before the justices, noted that Hialeah Park, located in Miami-Dade, didn't race in 2002 or 2003 but was granted a slots license by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Racing in 2010.

Jonathan Williams, who represented the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, argued lawmakers had made it clear "subsequent authorization" would be necessary before any other counties could install slots at pari-mutuel facilities.

The state Attorney General's office in 2012 had weighed in and said the department, under which the state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering falls, couldn't grant Gretna a slots license "absent a statutory or constitutional provision enacted after July 1, 2010."

The six justices present June 7 asked questions of Dunbar and Williams but didn't rule on the case, and they gave no timetable for a decision.

During the Florida legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers from the Florida panhandle, where Gadsden County is located, as well as other counties with economic development issues made their case for an expansion of slots at pari-mutuel facilities in the state. In the end, the legislation—and a $3 billion gaming compact with the Seminole tribe—failed to pass.