07/10/2003 11:00PM

Attempting to resurrect the slots issue

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Floridians for a Level Playing Field is a consortium of Dade and Broward County parimutuel entities. The goal of the group is to place an amendment to Florida's constitution on the November 2004 statewide election ballot. The amendment would allow voters in Dade and Broward counties to determine by referendum if they want slot machines in their existing parimutuel facilities.

The wording of the amendment specifies that the authorization is limited to "existing parimutuel facilities that have conducted live racing or games in that county during each of the last two calendar years before the effective date of this amendment."

Hialeah has not operated a live meet in either 2002 or 2003 and therefore would appear to be ineligible to host slots should the amendment and the referenda be approved by Florida's electorate in 2004.

Hialeah Race Course is not a member of the Floridians group.

This is not the first time around for the Floridians advocates. Last year, the Florida Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision ruled that the language for the amendment, which had gathered the necessary signatures to make the ballot in 2002, was in violation of an existing statute because it joined an enabling statute with a revenue statute. The court's decision struck the amendment from the ballot.

Also in this proposed amendment to Florida's constitution is the proviso that the Legislature must address the mechanics of the implementing the amendment by July 1 of the year immediately following the vote, which in this case would be July 2005. The Legislature would be empowered by this amendment to tax the slots, but the revenue would have to be employed for public education statewide.

No other slot machine or VLT revenue distributions are addressed in the proposed amendment - which could open the door to unintended consequences.

"What a favorable ruling by the state Supreme Court may do is get things going again in the Legislature," said Dick Hancock, executive vice president for the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. "I can't see the Legislature letting just two counties have slots when there are other parimutuel counties that would want them as well. The Florida Senate had a good bill in the last session that addressed revenue issues, but the Florida House, however, just sat on it."

Wilbur E. Brewton is the legal counsel for Calder Race Course. Brewton, who lives and works in Tallahassee, expects the Florida Supreme Court to take action soon on whether the amendment can be placed on the ballot.

"Ordinarily, the Supreme Court moves on such matters within 60 days," Brewton said. "The attorney general sent the petition to the Supreme Court in late May. So, I expect the court to announce its conclusion any day now."

Broward County, home of Gulfstream, the Hollywood dog track, Dania jai-alai, and Pompano Park harness, generated the greatest number of "yea" votes on the circulating petition, followed by Dade County. In third place was Alachua County, where there is no parimutuel facility but which is the home of the University of Florida.