Broward County's four pari-mutuel venues can start installing slot machines July 1, Circuit Judge Leroy Moe ruled Tuesday in a swift, bluntly worded decision demanding that regulations be created for the gambling devices within 10 days.
In a 25-minute hearing that both sides thought would be routine, the judge ruled that the County Commission can devise slot regulations. He said that if the commission failed to do so in time, he would do it.
His decision provoked a cacophony of reaction from the courthouse to the halls of the state Capitol, with many politicians and legal observers saying an appeal was imminent.
It was unclear Tuesday night who would be the one to decide whether such an appeal is filed: Attorney General Charlie Crist or Broward State Attorney Michael Satz.
Broward County voters spoke and state legislators "evidently have deliberately refused to pass legislation implementing their own constitution," Moe said.
"My point is the [pari-mutuel operators] have a clear right to have slot machines in their establishments," the judge said. "There's no question about that."
Hollywood Greyhound Track Vice President Dan Adkins hailed the decision as a major victory, saying he could have slot machines installed within two months of getting some regulations. He said he hoped the ruling would motivate the Legislature to call a special session.
"That was the most respect of the voters of this state that I have ever seen anywhere," Adkins said.
Anti-gambling legislators said the court fight was far from over.
"The industry knew full well that Broward County was a friendly environment for them to make their case," said state Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, chairman of the anti-gambling group No Casinos. "I'm not surprised by the ruling, but I'm disappointed. I'm sure it will be appealed and all of this will ultimately end up in Tallahassee in the appellate process."
In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4 allowing Broward and Miami-Dade counties to decide whether to allow slots at pari-mutuel sites.
In March, Broward County voters approved slots at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Dania Jai-Alai, Hollywood Greyhound Track and Pompano Park Harness Track. Miami-Dade voters rejected the machines after a late push against them by Gov. Jeb Bush.
The constitutional amendment called for state legislators to craft regulations and set tax rates for slot machines at its most recent legislative session and for the rules to take effect by July 1.
The Legislature, though, failed to reach a compromise on a number of key issues, including the type of slot machines to be allowed, either Las Vegas-style machines or bingo-style machines.
After hearing of Moe's ruling, Broward County commissioners said they doubted whether any regulations could be approved in less than two weeks.
"There is no way we can come up with regulations by July 1," said Mayor Kristin Jacobs, who helped lead the anti-slots campaign. `That's simply impossible."
County Attorney Jeffrey Newton said he wanted to see the judge's ruling before deciding how to proceed, but said he thought the county would have time to sort out what to do as the case is appealed.
Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said Moe's decision was inevitable given the lack of action by the Legislature in the spring.
"The voters of Broward County twice said yes, and I have not understood what part of yes the Legislature didn't understand," she said. "I knew when the voters said yes twice they meant it, so it has been very frustrating."
A key question will be how far the county can go. Jacobs said she thought the county could set only basic regulations, such as the hours of operation, and had no authority to tackle the most important issues of tax rates, payout rates and the number and types of machines.
State Rep. Marco Rubio, R- Miami, warned that if the County Commission or Moe created regulations, the Legislature simply could pass regulations overriding them.
"The legislatively created rules may be significantly different," he said. "Any pari-mutuel that invests any significant amount of resources into their facilities based on regulations created by a judge or county commission does so at great peril."
Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, criticized Moe's decision.
"It appears that the concept all politics are local is alive and well in Broward County," Lee said. "We are weighing our options, but you can rest assured we will be preparing the most aggressive response available to us under the law."
Bense said, "We listened to hours and hours of public testimony, and I don't think it's responsible for the judge or anyone to give the county commission 10 days to come up with an implementation plan. That's very irresponsible, personally."
A spokesman for the governor said there was little likelihood a special legislative session would be called by July 1.
"This does not mean there are going to be slots on July 1," said Russell Schweiss, Bush's deputy press secretary. "There is still a lot of distance to go and several hurdles to be cleared before slot machines can be brought into the state."
Schweiss said he found the swiftness of Moe's decision "highly unusual." Tuesday's hearing was the first -- and now the only -- one in the case filed by the pari-mutuel operators last month against the Broward State Attorney's Office.
They sued the county prosecutor because they were asking in their lawsuit for Moe to determine whether they were entitled to have slot machines without fear of being prosecuted. Typically in such court proceedings, Satz's office is represented by the Attorney General's Office, said Ron Ishoy, Satz's spokesman.
The Attorney General's Office was not involved in Tuesday's hearing, though. Crist's spokeswoman, JoAnn Carrin, said Crist could not represent the State Attorney's Office because he had issued an advisory opinion to the Legislature on slot regulations in March.
"Since the Attorney General's Office already spoke out on the issue, we felt that at the trial level it would be inappropriate to be involved in the litigation and we would have had a conflict," Carrin said.
Carrin said it was still being discussed whether the Attorney General's Office would handle the appeal. If Crist chooses to stay out of the case, it could be up to Satz whether to appeal.
Ishoy said Satz had not made a decision Tuesday night.
Staff Writers Scott Wyman and John Holland contributed to this report.Jon Burstein can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4491.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times