Editor's Note: The following is a release from Christine Garrity, 2nd Vice President of the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, with the latest information regarding the organization's attempts to change Florida legislation so that Standardbreds have parity with Thoroughbreds, specifically as it relates to racing and the operation of a casino at the parent race track.
Pompano Beach, FL --- The Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association received good news on September 22 from Judge Charles Francis from the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Fla., when the Judge denied the Isle (of Capri) and the State of Florida’s motions to dismiss the constitutional claims in the FSBOA lawsuit. The next big step for this lawsuit will entail the FSBOA filing its motion for summary judgment. A hearing on that motion most likely will not occur until some point in time in calendar year 2010.
We believe that the entire pari-mutuel industry may now take a hard look at the merits of our suit since an FSBOA victory may drastically impact their businesses. If the FSBOA is victorious in this suit then the entire slots industry in pari-mutuel facilities in Broward County and in Miami-Dade (Pompano Park, Gulfstream Park, Mardi Gras Dogtrack, Calder) will be declared unconstitutional and shut down by operation of law. An FSBOA win may also preclude the Seminole Tribe from continuing with Class 3 gaming and the Seminoles would need to revert back to Class 2 gaming that they had prior to the passing of the constitutional amendment that allowed the Las Vegas style Class 3 gaming into Florida due to a failure in the slots enabling implementation statute.
It is our position that Chapter 551 of the Florida Statutes is unconstitutional. Chapter 551 is the implementing legislation to the Pari-Mutuel/Slots Amendment. Among other things, it is an improper local law passed as a general law in violation of Article III, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution. Chapter 551 applies only to the Dade-Broward market area. As a result, Chapter 551 constitutes an improper local law that was enacted without complying with the requirements of Article III, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution.
Our position is supported by, among other things, a recently decided Florida Supreme Court case. Ironically, the case that we cite as direct precedent for our case was originally decided by the court where our case will be heard. It involved Chapter 550 of the pari-mutuel statute. The court that will hear our case and the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the provision in question in Chapter 550 was flawed in exactly the same way as the provision in Chapter 551 is flawed. The Florida Supreme Court eventually affirmed that ruling. That case is the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation v. Gulfstream Park Racing Association, Inc. 967 So.802 (Fla. 2007).
The Gulfstream case recognized that special and local laws contain specific requirements under Article III, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution that must be met. The Florida Legislature must publish notice of intention to enact the law or condition the effectiveness of the law on the vote of the electors in the affected area. The policy behind this statute is very important. It guarantees that the finite class of people affected by a local or special law – rather than all of the politicians in Tallahassee and/or select local interest groups – will have the opportunity to weigh in or decide an issue that will only affect them.
The Court found in the Gulfstream case that the Florida Legislature had not complied with the Article III Section 10 requirements and enacted Chapter 550.615(6) as a general law. The Florida Supreme Court noted that the law in question applied only to the Dade-Broward market area and constituted a special law in violation of Article III, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution. The Legislature is constitutionally barred from passing general laws that impact only specific parties or areas of the state unless constitutional requirements are met.
It is undisputed that the Florida Legislature did not publish a notice of intention to enact Chapter 551 or condition its effectiveness on the vote of the electors in the affected areas. Chapter 551 was enacted as a general law. It’s also undisputed that Chapter 551 applies only and can apply only to the Dade-Broward market area and limits its application to a single class and excludes any others from joining the class.
Chapter 551 contains a provision that specifically requires pari-mutuel facilities that conduct thoroughbred racing to enter into a contract with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (“FTBOA”) as a condition of slot licensure. This provision does not impose a similar provision on pari-mutuel facilities that conduct standardbred racing and the FSBOA. As a result, Pompano Park is now the only horse racing facility located in the State of Florida that is not required as a condition of slot licensure to enter into a contract with its horsemen association which provides that the revenues from slot machine operations will be shared with the breeders, owners, drivers, and trainers of horses that race at Pompano Park.
What do we want at the end of the day? That’s simple. We merely want the legislature to comply with the Constitution’s requirements and enact a statute that does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In other words, the statute must have the same language into Chapter 551 that they added for the thoroughbreds and then we will drop the lawsuit. We are entitled to parity with the thoroughbreds – period. We want the same protection to give us a guaranteed seat at the table to negotiate a fair contract for slots revenue to increase our purse dollars and breeders awards to the same extent that the thoroughbreds have that statutory protection.
Do we need to continue with the lawsuit if the legislature complies with the Constitutional requirements and grants us parity with the thoroughbreds in Chapter 551? No. We would drop the lawsuit if the legislature does the very simple and equitable thing.
Pompano Park management has refused to sit down and negotiate for a contract while our lawsuit continues. We have a good lawsuit. Pompano Park has remained steadfast in its position that it has no reason to supplement our purses and breeders awards with slots revenues. Unless and until we work out a reasonable settlement agreement with Pompano Park management and continue our quest to get the law changed so it complies with the Constitution’s requirements and grants us parity, we have no incentive whatsoever to drop a valid and substantive lawsuit.
Our lobbyists in Tallahassee are working hard right now to obtain support from prominent members of the legislature to introduce our parity language. The FTBOA has agreed to support our parity language as well in our quest to get the job done. We came very close in the last legislative session. We plan on implementing a full-court press starting now so that our bill will be presented during the Committee meetings that began in October so if there is a Special Session called in the Fall/Winter of 2009 dealing with the Indian Compact situation it is our intention to have our language on that agenda. If a Special Session is not heard then we will be well-prepared for the 2010 legislative session that starts in March. It’s our intent to get this done once and for all so that we can peacefully co-exist with Pompano Park management and have the opportunity to race for slots enhanced purses with additional dollars available for Florida breeder’s awards.
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Grand Circuit Report: Week of Nov. 1, 2009