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Monday, June 27, 2005

The Appeal of Slots

- The decision by the Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz to appeal the Florida court decision allowing - actually, ordering the county to write their own rules for slots by July 1 must come as a relief to both sides. The county was struggling to write some kind of basic, stopgap set of regulations to protect their rights by the deadline lest the judge do it for them, and even Dan Adkins of Hollywood Greyhound acknowledged ''Obviously, nothing was going to happen until we had clear legal authority anyway.” [Miami-Herald]

"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." [Sun-Sentinal] Interestingly, the state had to turn to Satz to file the appeal when the state Attorney General refused to do so, saying that he believes it is the responsibility of the Legislature to act and said he will not get involved.

State law requires Crist to defend the state in criminal cases but gives him discretion in civil cases. Crist has maintained that the Legislature has the obligation to implement the amendment. His statement Friday said ``that implementation does not include the Broward County Commission or the judiciary.'' [Miami Herald]
Earlier, Governor Bush had called the court ruling “bizarre,” a type of behavior the governor himself has exhibited lately.

- Pennsylvania dodged a bullet when the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the slots law, but there are other challenges to come. In addition, the aspect of the ruling that restores power to local zoning boards over casino construction is not a welcome development for Governor Ed Rendell. effectively grants local zoning officials the power to decide where more than half of those gambling halls would be located in their communities.

Before the court tossed out a portion of the law, that power resided exclusively with the seven gubernatorial and legislative appointees on the gambling board.

That change has Rendell and some legislators worried that wrangling by local officials and community groups over where to place slots parlors could bog down their opening. Now, the five stand-alone venues and two resort casinos called for in the gambling law will need zoning approval. (Seven horse-racing tracks will also operate slot machines, but they are already built or approved.) [Philly Inquirer]
Via Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page comes this take on the "contortionist" ruling by the state's high court.
Ironically, Justice Cappy said earlier court rulings recognized the need for ''fair notice to the public and to the legislators'' of changes in bills. ''Reasonable notice'' is the keystone of one of the constitutional provisions PAGE claimed was violated. But the court looked at the massive changes known as Act 71, made late at night and passed over a holiday weekend (all by design, of course), and just nodded.

Was the embryonic bill changed unconstitutionally to include more than one purpose? It went from background checks to the entire structure for slots. No, said the court, both ''relate to the single subject of regulating gaming,'' confirming that often the law isn't a scalpel but a butter knife ... especially when wielded in this system.

The court did say Act 71 went too far in trying to provide direct funding for volunteer fire companies and other programs unrelated to gambling. And, it went too far in giving the Gaming Control Board poorly defined authority to run roughshod over local zoning concerns.

Beyond those quibbles, forget banking on the state constitution. In the view of the justices, it hardly is a constitution at all. It's just a list of official suggestions. []
- As I mentioned before, Yonkers Raceway is now closed for 4 months to build a racino where the old grandstand used to stand before it was demolished due to lack of need and use. Yonkers is not just looking for survival here; they are thinking in far, far greater terms.
Yonkers's general manager, Bob Galterio, predicted that the 5,500 machines would bring in enough revenue to increase purses nearly sixfold. Feature races on weeknight programs could be worth as much as $100,000. The track's top stakes would offer $1 million purses, and the Messenger and the Yonkers International, races Yonkers farmed out to other tracks because it could no longer afford them, would return.

Should the projections come true, Yonkers will most likely have the highest purses of any North American harness track, surpassing the Meadowlands and the handful of tracks that already have slot machines.
"There are seven million people who live within 30 minutes of Yonkers Raceway," Galterio said. "No gaming jurisdiction has ever had those kind of numbers. We're hoping our projections are on the low side." [NY Times]
Wow, those are some lofty aspirations for a track where average daily attendance has dropped from a peak of 25,397 in 1964; last year, it was 559. And as is the case with racinos, while the purses may go up, it doesn’t mean that interest in the sport will too.
Most tracks that have added slot machines seem to have gone out of their way to shield customers from the racing. The on-track slot rooms rarely have betting windows, televisions showing the races or even a view of the racetrack.

"It would be nice if Yonkers could commingle the two forms of gambling," said Jeff Gregory, a top driver. "A lot of these tracks upstate are built like you're in a cave, and the people playing the machines don't even know the races are going on.
- Also a nice article in the Times on the one-time jewel of Florida racing, Hialeah Park, and the efforts to revive it. The track now stands decaying and unused except for the occasional wedding reception. Use login ‘unfortunately’ and password ‘required’ to sign in if needed.


Anonymous said...

Alan, with regards to your comment about racinos shielding people from racing rather than encouraging their interest, FINGER LAKES CASINO (huge type) & racetrack (added in tiny letters) logo is an exemplar. The heirarchy continues in the architecture. A thirty foot yellow awning, red carpet and greeters usher new arrivals into the casino. Upstairs, worn formica and old chairs are the lot of racegoers.

A trainer told me that the increased purse money attracted new trainers, but they generally leave after a year because of the entrenched culture of the back stretch and the management has not been upgraded along with the purses. She said she'd rather be a hotwalker at Belmont most days, but her farm is only ten miles away, so she stays at Finger Lakes.

I don't hold out high hopes for Yonkers or Aqueduct being fundamentally different. Do you?

Alan Mann said...

>>I don't hold out high hopes for Yonkers or Aqueduct being fundamentally different. Do you?

No, not at all. The only racino I've been to is the one at Saratoga, and it's a similar situation to what you describe at Finger Lakes. Attracting new fans from racinos doesn't even seem to be a consideration at all; for example, there's no mention of that possibility at all in the Friends of NY report which advocates thousands of new machines at Belmont.