Jack Skelding: My View
Re: “Jobs may carry vote on gambling”
(Byron Dobson, Nov. 4).
Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, November 8, 2011
It may be true that Gadsden County residents will vote soundly in favor of gambling in the referendum scheduled for January. However, it is my opinion that under Florida law Gadsden County is without authority to authorize slot machine gaming. A positive vote on the referendum cannot create authority for the state to issue a slot license. The Gretna facility is authorized to operate pari-mutuel quarter horse racing, and it may be issued a poker room license in the future. Without further legislative authorization, racing and poker are the only gaming activities the facility may legally offer.
Florida law states that slot machine gaming may be authorized outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties by a countywide referendum. However, any referendum must be “held pursuant to a statutory or constitutional authorization after the effective date of this section …” (July 1, 2010). Before any countywide referendum may be held, the state must grant the county the authority to hold a slot referendum. The grant of authority must occur after July 1, 2010, and no such authority has been given to Florida counties. Current law merely lays the groundwork for a future grant of authority.
The proponents of slot machine gaming in Gadsden County may argue that the word “after” requires only that the referendum itself occur after July 1, 2010. This interpretation is not only legally incorrect, it leads to the absurd result that Gadsden County could cause the state to lose all of the money it currently receives pursuant to its gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
In return for substantial payments to the state, the Seminole Tribe is granted the exclusive right to offer slot machine gaming in certain parts of Florida, including
Gadsden County. The compact provides that if, after Feb. 1, 2010, slot machines are implemented outside of Miami-Dade and Broward County, the exclusivity provisions of the gaming compact are breached. A breach allows the Seminole Tribe to cease making its guaranteed payments to the state of $233 million per year, all of which is dedicated to educational funding.
The law requiring a further grant of authority before a county may hold a slots referendum and the Seminole gaming compact were developed jointly by the governor and the Legislature. The state did not leave open the possibility that Gadsden County could unilaterally breach the Seminole gaming compact, causing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of state revenue. Only the Legislature can decide the future of gaming in Florida.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jack Skelding has practiced regulatory and legislative law in Tallahassee since 1971. Most recently, his practice has centered on pari-mutuel and gaming law. Contact him at
Gadsden County slot referendum based on illegal barrel racing; Florida Pari-Mutuel Division awards Gretna license with no enabling legislation, regulatory hearings or public input
By authorizing a pari-mutuel wagering license to Gretna Racing, LLC, the State of Florida has unlawfully legalized an entirely new form of gambling, explained an administrative petition filed with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on November 3, 2011.
In a unilateral move that was made with no legislative action, regulatory review or public hearings, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel wagering legalized an entirely new form of gambling that has never before been authorized or approved in Florida, the petition relates. Instead of flat-track Quarter Horse racing, as the law intends, Gretna has indicated it will conduct pari-mutuel wagering on “barrel racing,” a timed rodeo event, which is widely understood to be an end-run attempt to bypass the State of Florida’s live racing requirements upon which the operation of a 365-day per year poker room and, ultimately, slot machines, are contingent.
The petition is endorsed by nearly 450,000 Florida and national horsemen nationwide, including the:
• National and Florida Barrel Horse Association (24,000 members)
• American Quarter Horse Association (350,000 national members; 7,163 Florida members)
• Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (439 members)
• U.S. Trotting Association (25,000 members)
• Florida Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association (630 members)
• Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (1,300 members)
• National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (35,000 members)
• Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (5,000 members)
According to the American Horse Council, each legitimate racehorse creates at least seven jobs. Because Gretna’s planned barrel racing uses fewer horses per pari-mutuel performance than legitimate horse racing, the ultimate result is a widespread loss of Florida horse racing industry jobs, particularly in the breeding industry and agricultural sectors.
Given the current intensity of State of Florida job-creation efforts, the State’s sanction of illegal barrel racing, resulting in the unwitting destruction of Florida’s $2.2 billion horse racing industry—an annual employer of 51,700 statewide—was noted as a travesty.
Neither Gretna, nor the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has publicly revealed the specifics of regulatory oversight that would apply to legitimate horse racing, such as jockey and trainer licensing, drug testing and identification of horses, and types of wagers and state accounting of wagering and purse allocations—regulations designed to both protect the betting public and create jobs.
Further, although Gretna has never conducted legitimate flat-track Quarter Horse racing as the law intends, nor has it yet constructed a regulation flat-track during the years that have passed since its initial announcement several years ago that it would do so, the facility has scheduled its 41 days of “racing” to fall during the December 2011 and January 2012 time-span, so as to further leverage the law by technically meeting Florida’s two-year live racing requirement for slot machines within a mere two months.