05/10/2005 12:00AM

Miami tracks consider suing state over slots


A group of Miami-area racetracks is weighing whether to sue the state of Florida after the state legislature adjourned late Friday without passing enabling legislation for slot machines at the tracks.

The group is expected to come to a decision within the next several weeks, according to Ken Dunn, the president of Calder Race Course, a member of a coalition of tracks in the Miami area that lobbied for a referendum to allow slot machines that passed in Broward County in March. The referendum failed in neighboring Miami-Dade County, where Calder is located.

The legislature adjourned Friday after the House and Senate passed dramatically different bills enabling slots at the Broward County racetracks, which include Gulfstream Park. The bills were not reconciled, and the legislature has no plans to call a special session this year.

The referendum that passed in March required the legislature to pass a bill by July 1. The slots referendum was opposed by Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida's Native American tribes, many of which already operate casinos in the state.

"The attorneys right now are meeting, and they are going to make a recommendation on which way to go soon," said Dunn. One of the legal options, Dunn said, is to sue the state in order to get the court to issue a ruling on whether the referendum "self-enabled" slot machines at tracks, meaning racetracks could operate the machines without legislation.

The House and Senate bills differed most dramatically on how they would define slot machines and how gambling revenue would be taxed. The House bill would have allowed racetracks to operate so-called Class II machines, which would be based on electronic bingo games, and would tax the gambling profits at 55 percent. The Senate bill would have allowed traditional reel-type slot machines and would have taxed the revenue on a sliding scale capped at 50 percent.

Racetrack lobbyists contend that a 55 percent tax would prevent the track owners from raising money to build slot-machine facilities. They also supported the Senate bill's definition of a slot machine. Bingo-based or lottery-based slot machines have typically under-performed more traditional reel-type machines in casinos across the country.