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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Pennsylvania Slots Rush

- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously rejected a bid to declare the state’s slots law unconstitutional, opening the way for selection and construction of casinos at racetracks and stand-alone sites around the state.

Gambling opponents filed suit with the Supreme Court, alleging that the General Assembly violated the state constitution when it took a one-page bill regulating background checks for harness track employees and added to it a 145-page amendment allowing 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations. Gambling opponents argued that the maneuver violated constitutional provisions prohibiting a bill from being amended to such a degree that the additions alter its original purpose. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
But the Court responded:
"Keeping in mind the trepidation with which the judiciary interferes with the process by which the General Assembly enacts the laws….we conclude that as a matter of law, there was a single unifying subject to which most of the provisions of the act are germane, the regulation of gambling." [, via Albany Law School]
So, the floodgates are open for up to 61,000 slot machines, which would put Pennsylvania second behind Nevada in number of machines, and the State Gaming Control Board and casino companies such as Harrah’s, whose plans had been on hold pending the decision, are free to proceed. Penn National stock was up sharply on the announcement.

The court however, did strike down a provision that would have pre-empted local community boards from enforcing zoning laws regarding casino construction decided by the gaming board. While this will give local communities more power over some aspects of the casinos, it did not alter the authority of the Gaming Control Board to decide where to locate the casinos. [NY Times] The Times article is about the town of Gettysburg’s efforts to stop a casino from being built in the shadow of the historic Civil War battleground there.
The casino would not be the first near a Civil War battlefield. Four floating casinos operate near Vicksburg, Miss., where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant won a victory that split the Confederacy in two. And the current fight is one of many over development around Civil War sites; a proposal to build a Disney complex in Manassas, in Northern Virginia, was defeated, for example.
And I suppose it’s a somewhat related subject that the Supreme Court today ruled that states can seize private property to make way for commercial endeavors like shopping malls or office complexes. So when you refer to yourself as a “homeowner” and your property as “private,” be aware that that's really not the case, because local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. [CNN]

- New York’s Governor Pataki is seeking to accelerate the process of considering bids for the expiring NYRA franchise.
Current state law states that a nine-member panel "composed of three appointments of the governor and six from legislative leaders" be in place by next December to begin the request for proposal process for the racetrack franchise, which has been held by NYRA since 1955. The plan kicking around the Capitol would change that date to the end of next week -- a clear signal that at least some in state government are serious about putting the franchise out to a real bidding war this time. [Bloodhorse]
In addition, according to the Albany Times-Union, NYRA has made a non-public request for legislation authorizing their Aqueduct casino contract with MGM Mirage in the wake of Alan Hevesi’s audit, which asserted that the bidding process was not competitive.

- Churchill Downs has received a new high offer for Hollywood Park from Stockbridge Capital Partners, the owners of Bay Meadows. It is widely assumed that the property will be developed for commercial purposes other than that of people betting on horse races.
Churchill Downs…..bought Hollywood Park in 1999 for approximately $140 million. According to the report in the Business Journal, Stockbridge made a late bid that was 10 percent higher than the previous top offer, catching other buyers - mostly large homebuilders - off guard. [Daily Racing Form]
- Michael Mayo of the Sun-Sentinal has this to say about the court decision on Broward County slots:
Judge Leroy Moe's ruling on slot machines was refreshingly stunning in its brevity, simplicity and clarity.

The boobs in Tallahassee never knew what hit them.

They were so flustered by Moe's surprise ruling that they made a lot of noise without even mentioning the phrase "activist judge," that standard refrain of the Republican playbook.

But Moe is no activist judge. He's simply trying to adhere to the state constitution, something the Legislature should try for a change.
Instead of moaning and groaning about the ruling, or trying to stop it through appeals, maybe Gov. Jeb Bush, House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee should try this novel approach:

Get as many butts as possible back to Tallahassee for a special session next week, hash out slots legislation before July 1, and obey the constitution they have sworn to uphold, defend and protect.
In the meantime, local officials are truly struggling to comprehend and implement Judge Moe’s order to write the rules themselves, at least for now.

- Hambletonian front-runner Ken Warkentin makes his second start of the year at the Meadowlands tonight in a NJ Sire Stakes final. He’s part owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tie Domi. [US Trotting Association] The Hambo eliminations are on July 30, with the final heat on August 6. Long gone are the days when the eliminations and finals were on the same afternoon, sometimes necessitating a third heat race-off to determine the winner. What was once a unique racing epic in a country fair setting is now just another big purse on a steamy August afternoon in New Jersey.