Florida to appeal judge’s ruling allowing slots on July 1 - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Lawyers representing the state of Florida decided Friday to appeal a judge's ruling that allows slot machines to be installed as early as July 1 in Broward County's four pari-mutuels, saying it short-circuited the state Legislature's right to draw up gambling regulations first.

The appeal by Broward State Attorney Mike Satz came even as County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman's bid to pass a limited set of regulations dimmed from a lack of commission support.

Satz said that although he supported voters' decision to allow gambling, he believed the Legislature was the appropriate place for rules to be written because of the statewide ramifications. "We're not against gambling," said Ron Ishoy, Satz's spokesman. "We just want it to be done right. The Florida Legislature is the place to do this."

In a bluntly worded decision this week, Circuit Judge Leroy Moe ruled the pari-mutuel operators had a constitutional right to install slots despite the Legislature's lack of action. He said either he or the County Commission could write any necessary regulations.

Pari-mutuel owners hailed Moe's decision and said they could have machines in place within 60 days.

Opponents feared the prospect of the industry not being regulated as strictly as they wanted and pushed Satz and state Attorney General Charlie Crist to appeal.

Crist declined saying he had previously issued a legal opinion on the issue.

In response to Moe's decision, Lieberman proposed a skeleton five-page set of gambling regulations for the board to consider at its Tuesday meeting.

The rules limit the number of machines in each facility to 3,000, bars minors from gambling, requires pools and other recreational areas to be at least 50 feet from the machines, requires the businesses to have a county occupational license and allows the county to audit their books.

Left unaddressed are major issues ranging from the hours of operation to how much the machines should pay out in winnings to whether criminal background checks should be required of employees.

Lieberman argued those details can be ironed out by county staff and consultants over the summer.

Because her proposal has not been advertised for public input, four-fifths, or eight of the nine commissioners, must agree. However, Mayor Kristin Jacobs and Vice Mayor Ben Graber said on Friday they oppose the emergency ordinance.

Jacobs campaigned against the referendum that allowed slots in the county. Graber had supported setting that vote, but said Friday he does not want to be stamped into drawing up rules when so much is at stake.

"For us to write rules in 10 days is totally irresponsible," Graber said.

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