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Inc. v. Calder Race Course, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

September 25, 2019

Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, Inc., d/b/a Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, Appellant,
v.
Calder Race Course, Inc., and Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Appellees. Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., Inc., Appellant,
v.
Calder Race Course, Inc., Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, and Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, Inc., d/b/a Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. Robert Ehrhardt, Director.

          WOLF, J.

         These appeals challenge a Final Order Granting a Declaratory Statement requested by Calder Race Course Inc. (Calder) and issued by The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutual Wagering (Division). The declaratory statement determined in part that pursuant to section 551.102(4), Florida Statutes, Calder could discontinue the operation of thoroughbred races and instead present a full schedule of live jai alai performances in order to maintain its "eligible facility" status to continue to conduct slot machine operations. The declaratory statement also determined that Calder was not required to conduct summer jai alai performances in the state fiscal year proceeding its operation of slot machines. We affirm as to all issues and specifically address one of appellants' challenges. We find the Division's interpretations of the constitutional amendment and statutes which would allow Calder to present jai alai games in order to continue to conduct slot machine operations are the most reasonable.

         Facts

         In 2004, Florida voters approved a new constitutional provision authorizing Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to hold countywide referenda on whether to authorize slot machines within existing licensed pari-mutuel facilities which had conducted live racing or games in that county during 2002 and 2003. See art. X, § 23, Fla. Const. (2018).[1] On November 2, 2004, Florida voters approved the "Slots Amendment." Slot machines were approved in Broward County in 2004 and in Miami-Dade County in 2008.

         In 2005 the Florida Legislature enacted chapter 551, Florida Statutes, entitled "Slot Machines, " which governs the operation of slot machines at eligible facilities. A license to conduct slot machine gaming is tied to a pari-mutuel wagering permit-holder. See § 551.104(3), Fla. Stat. (2018).

         Section 551.102(4) defines the term "eligible facility" for obtaining a slots permit as:

Any licensed pari-mutuel facility located in Miami-Dade County or Broward County existing at the time of adoption of s. 23, Art. X of the State Constitution that has conducted live racing or games during calendar years 2002 and 2003 may possess slot machines and conduct slot machine gaming at the location where the pari-mutuel permit-holder is authorized to conduct pari-mutuel wagering activities pursuant to such permit-holder's valid pari-mutuel permit provided that a majority of voters in a countywide referendum have approved slot machines at such facility in the respective county.

         Calder Race Course, Inc., located in Miami-Dade County, has been a pari-mutuel permit holder for thoroughbred horse racing at its facility since 1971. As a pari-mutuel permit holder which conducted live racing during 2002 and 2003, Calder qualified for and obtained a permit authorizing it to have slot machine gaming at its pari-mutuel facility. Calder recently obtained a summer jai alai permit, and it intends to discontinue thoroughbred racing and begin conducting jai alai games if it continues to qualify for a slot machine permit after the change.

         On July 31, 2018, Calder Race Course petitioned the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (Division), for a Declaratory Statement in regard to two questions related to its intent to terminate thoroughbred racing, and to clarify whether the underlying basis for its slot machine permit could be its jai alai permit, rather than its thoroughbred horse racing permit:

Question 1: Whether, pursuant to section 551.102(4), Calder may discontinue the operation of thoroughbred races and instead operate a full schedule of live jai alai performances in order to maintain its 'eligible facility' status to continue to conduct slot machine operations?
Question 2: If the answer to question 1 is 'yes, ' and Calder operates jai alai performances in lieu of thoroughbred races, whether Calder is required to conduct summer jai alai performances in the state fiscal year preceding its operation of slot machines as a summer jai alai licensee? Question 1 was answered in the affirmative; Question 2 was answered in the negative.[2]

         Standard of Review

         The issues in this case involve interpretation of the statutes under chapters 550 and 551, Florida Statutes. The de novo standard applies to this ...


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