The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Dec. 21 issued a license for slot machines to Hialeah Park. Officials said gaming could commence in November 2011.
John Brunetti, Hialeah Park chairman and owner, was not available for comment Dec. 22. Randy Soth, the track’s general manager, said obtaining the license will enable the Hialeah, Fla., track to move forward on its plans for building a casino that would open with a target date of November 2011.
Hialeah’s casino, with Las Vegas-style slot machines, would be in the now-closed north portion of its grandstand building. The south portion of the building is open for Hialeah’s 24-day Quarter Horse meet that began Dec. 3 and extends through Jan. 24, 2011.
“Obtaining the slots license is a very important step in the process,” Soth said. “We have been pursuing that, parallel with the legal process.”
The legal process involves a lawsuit in a state court in Tallahassee in which Calder Casino & Race Course and two other South Florida pari-mutuel facilities are challenging Hialeah’s legal right to have a slots casino.
In the lawsuit’s first count, Calder, Greyhound track Magic City Casino, and Miami Jai-Alai maintain that a provision of the 2010 Florida law that authorizes a casino for Hialeah is impermissible because a 2004 voter-approved state constitutional amendment allows casinos only at the seven pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that held pari-mutuel events in 2002 and 2003. Hialeah did not hold horse racing or other pari-mutuel events either year.
On Nov. 22, Judge James Shelfer of the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County issued an oral ruling on the first count. He said the Hialeah-related provision of Florida’s 2010 gaming law is not unconstitutional under Florida law. He said the 2004 constitutional amendment did not have language that forever would allow casinos only at the seven specified facilities.
On Dec. 16 Shelfer issued a written follow-up order, stating that the 2010 law’s provision “does not conflict” with the 2004 constitutional amendment.
The suit has three other counts, including one that maintains that the law’s provision that authorizes a casino at Hialeah Park is an illegal “special law.” The plaintiffs cite a provision of the Florida constitution that such a special law cannot be passed unless it “is approved by voters” in the area affected.
The court’s website does not show any scheduled hearing dates on those counts.
The Florida DPMW, which reviews and issues slot machine licenses for pari-mutuels, is a co-defendant.
Remaining legal issues include whether plaintiffs might appeal on the first count, and the prospect of whether another Florida court could overturn the DPMW’s decision granting Hialeah a slots license. Soth said the DPMW’s authorization of a slots license “gives us a comfort level to proceed with our plans.”
Soth said plans include talks with the city of Hialeah on permits for renovation and later construction in the area designated for a casino.
Hialeah has not held Thoroughbred racing since 2001 and no longer has a Thoroughbred permit. Under its Quarter Horse permit, Hialeah can hold a mixed meet with as many as half its races as Thoroughbred races. Brunetti has told The Blood-Horse he will consider having a mixed meet in 2011-12, probably starting in November 2011.
Five southeast Florida pari-mutuel outlets have casinos with Las-Vegas style slot machines. They are: Calder, Gulfstream Park, harness track Isle Casino & Racing at Pompano Park, Magic City Casino, and Greyhound track Mardi Gras Casino.