An April ruling by the Florida Supreme Court seems to indicate that the state’s already growing casino industry has more room to expand. The high court upheld decisions from two lower courts in ruling that the Hialeah Park racetrack can open a slots parlor, even though the property was not specifically named in a 2004 ballot measure that granted other racetracks the right to add the games.
Hialeah Park had been shuttered for eight years until it reopened in 2009 to host quarterhorse racing rather than thoroughbred. The addition of a slots parlor with 900 machines planned for early 2013 was a requisite part of the business plan for the track. Without this decision, the racetrack may well have been in danger of closing again.
The impact of the ruling may be much more extensive however. The lower court’s opinion on the matter stated that the “legislature has broad discretion in regulating and controlling pari-mutuel wager and gambling under its police powers.” This broad language affirms the right of the legislature to expand gambling anywhere in the state, a point that is extremely relevant given the fact that several counties have held referendums seeking the ability to establish gaming venues.
The legislature now has the right to approve slots parlors as well as more elaborate destination-style casinos without requiring a state-wide ballot measure for voter approval. Gambling opponents are incensed by the ruling, but it seems clear that Florida’s casino interests have won this battle.
The casino business is already booming in Florida. This week the American Gaming Association released revenue numbers for the state’s non-tribal casinos which showed a 16 percent growth rate in 2011, compared to a national average of just 3 percent growth. This number even excludes the strongest properties in the market, run by the Seminole tribe which is not required to report revenue.
While some gambling opponents are now pushing for a constitutional change to assure that state voters have a say in gambling expansion, the state appears well on the way to full-fledged casino destinations in the Miami area, and expanded slots parlors and poker rooms in other areas of the state.