06/20/2005 11:00PM

Slots ruling favors racetracks

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A circuit court judge in Broward County, Fla., ruled Tuesday that four south Florida parimutuel sites can begin taking slot-machine bets as of July 1 despite the state legislature's failure to enact rules regarding the machines.

The ruling, by Broward County Circuit Court Judge Leroy Moe, said that the state legislature had violated the intent of a constitutional amendment passed by voters in Broward County earlier this year in favor of allowing slot machines at parimutuel facilities, including Gulfstream Park. In the ruling, Moe said the government could not enforce prohibitions on slot-machine gambling should the tracks begin taking bets on July 1.

The four Broward County parimutuel sites, which also include Hollywood Greyhound Park, the harness track Pompano Park, and the Dania jai alai fronton, sued the state in late May, contending that the legislature's failure to enact the rules by a July 1 deadline set in the constitutional amendment represented a violation "of the will of the people." The legislature adjourned for the year on May 5. Voters in Broward County passed the amendment in March over the objections of Gov. Jeb Bush, an opponent of expanded gambling, and several anti-gambling groups.

Dan Adkins, the vice president of Hollywood Greyhound and a spokesman for the four parimutuel sites involved in the lawsuit, commended the ruling but said that any predictions on when slot machines might be up and running at the four sites was premature given the options available to the opponents of the measure.

"The attorney could file an appeal, the legislature could call a special session, a lot of things could happen," Adkins said. "But as it stands right now, the judge is saying that Broward County should have rules and regulations in place by July 1, and if they don't do that, the court is prepared to work with the jurisdictions to put the rules in place. Having said that, I certainly don't think this is the last stop in the road."

JoAnn Carrin, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, said the attorney general's office is reviewing the ruling and that no decision has been made yet on whether to appeal.

Bush has recently floated the suggestion that the legislature may be called into a special session to address the slot-machine issues. Legislators have clashed on the type of machines that will be allowed and on how to divide revenue from the machines.

Dennis Mills, the vice chairman of Magna Entertainment, the owner of Gulfstream, said that he hoped the legislature would reconvene to draft the rules, in recognition of Judge Moe's ruling. He declined to offer a date on which Gulfstream could begin taking slot-machine bets, calling it "presumptuous." Gulfstream is currently in the middle of a $140 million renovation to its grandstand.

"We realize this is a journey, and this is a nice section of the journey we just got through," Mills said. "But we realize there is more to be done. We certainly don't want anyone to think that we are going to start with slot machines on July 1."

Separately, an anti-gambling group has filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee Circuit Court that seeks to block the sites from operating any slot machines until the legislature agrees to rules. That suit, which was filed the same day as the parimutuel sites' suit, has not yet been decided.