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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Slots Foes Never Say Die

- Those persistent slots opponents suffered a setback in Maine with their inability to collect enough signatures to place a repeal referendum on the ballot in November. But, as you'd expect, a spokesperson for No Slots for ME! said "We view this as an ongoing fight."

As you may know, slots are already up and running in the state - Penn National's Hollywood Slots in Bangor which, in 2006, generated $564 million resulting in net revenue of more than $37 million.

By law, 39 percent of this goes to a variety of state and local funds, including harness racing purses, support for agricultural fairs, university and community college scholarships. Bangor, as the host city, receives 1 percent. [Bangor Daily News]
Whatsmore, there will be a referendum on the ballot regarding a second racino, to be built by the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Washington County. But voter approval of that casino (which would require the construction of a - gasp! - racetrack) won't stop the anti-slots forces, who I imagine would keep on fighting even if Donald Trump was elected governor.

A more interesting situation is taking place in Florida, where slots opponents, similarly undaunted by the commencement of slots operations at Gulfstream and the Hollywood dog track now known as Mardi Gras (and the construction of racinos Dania Jai Alai and Pompano Park), are pressing on with a court challenge regarding the legitimacy of the signatures collected to get the 2004 referendum that amended the constitution, and permitted the subsequent vote on slots that was approved by Broward County voters in 2005, on the ballot in the first place. They allege massive fraud in that regard, including allegations that the petitions included the signatures of several dozen people who were already gambling in that Great Casino in the Sky. One anti-slots group claimed that they contacted 5,000 supposed signatories, and 68% of them didn't recall signing.

Initally, a Florida judge ruled against the challenge, writing that the courts can overturn the results of an election only when there is evidence of fraud in the election itself, not in events leading up to the election, like petition drives. [AP, via Black Box Voting forum]

However, that decision has since been reversed by an appellate court, and the case has been sent back with orders to invalidate the amendment if it were proved that slots backers failed to obtain enough valid signatures [Miami Herald].

Uh oh.

Slots supporters are now requesting that the state's Supreme Court delay that trial until they first rule on these two questions:
Whether signature validations can be challenged based on fraud allegations after absentee voting had begun.

Whether an amendment approved by voters can be invalidated if it is shown sponsors failed to get enough valid signatures due to fraud if a challenge is filed before the election.
That challenge was indeed filed before the first election, in September 2004. The appellate court has already ruled against such a delay in the new trial, but proponents are now appealing directly to the Supreme Court. Their ruling, and ones possibly to come subsequently, could have consequences that I'm sure the pari-mutuel industry in the state doesn't even want to think about.