Florida Supreme Court Sides With Dog Tracks On Card Rooms

November 30, 2014

Overturning a lower-court decision, the Florida Supreme Court this week ruled that at least two greyhound tracks can operate satellite card rooms without live racing.

Siding with the Palm Beach Kennel Club, the 5-1 opinion upheld the constitutionality of a law allowing jai alai permit holders to convert dormant, or unused, permits into greyhound permits if they meet certain conditions.

The law also allows greyhound permit holders to open card rooms at satellite facilities without live racing, again if certain conditions are met. That combination would allow the Palm Beach dog track and the Daytona Beach Kennel Club to open satellite card rooms.

Wednesday’s decision reversed a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that found the state law was so narrowly written that it applied to only the two facilities and was, therefore, an unconstitutional “special” act.

Under the law, a jai alai permit could be converted in a county in which the state “has issued only two pari-mutuel permits” and only if the jai alai permit had not previously been converted from another class of permit and jai alai games had not been performed there for at least 10 years.

But, in a 30-page opinion written by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, the majority agreed with attorney Barry Richard, who represented the Palm Beach greyhound track during oral arguments last year, that the lower court wrongly construed the words “only” and “has issued” when interpreting the statute.

The different definitions would mean that “there is a reasonable possibility that (the law) could apply to 10 of the 11 jai alai permits in the state,” Labarga wrote.

The statute, which went into effect in 2010 and was part of a sweeping gambling bill passed by the Legislature in 2009 that authorized a deal with the Seminole Tribe, gives Florida regulators discretion in considering applications for permits “with the aim of maximizing revenue generation and limiting competition within certain geographical areas,” Labarga wrote.

Justice R. Fred Lewis dissented without a written opinion, and Justice Peggy Quince recused herself.

A challenge to the law was filed by DeBary Real Estate Holdings Inc., which owns a quarter-horse permit in Volusia County but has never opened a facility.

The Daytona Beach Kennel Club planned to open a poker room in West Volusia with its converted permit.

by The News Service of Florida


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