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Calder Should Lose Slots License, Judge Says

May 25, 2019 - 7:15am
Calder demolished its grandstands in 2017
Calder demolished its grandstands in 2017

In a turnabout from a similar case last year, an administrative law judge Friday decided that state gambling regulators erred when they allowed South Florida’s Calder Race Course to keep its lucrative slot-machine license after demolishing a grandstand where bettors watched horses compete.

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association challenged a state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering renewal of Calder’s slots license after the grandstand was razed and a slot-machine facility was built near outside areas where patrons could view live races.

Under Florida law, slot-machine gaming areas must be “contiguous and connected to the live gaming facility.” While pari-mutuels in most of the state are barred from offering slot machines, tracks and jai alai frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties can have the machines under a 2004 constitutional amendment.

When Calder added slots in 2010, the area where gamblers played the machines was connected to the live gaming facility. But after the 400,000-plus square foot grandstand was razed in 2016, only a partially covered sidewalk connects the slots area and the live racing area at the Miami Gardens facility.

“Taken together, ‘contiguous and connected’ clearly do not mean merely proximate, abutting, adjoining, or adjacent, but conjoined, integrated, and united for a common purpose,” Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham wrote in Friday’s 57-page order.

The law concerning the proximity of slots and live gaming “reflects a careful balancing of the potentially competing interests between preserving historical pari-mutuel operations and promoting newly permitted slot machine gaming,” Van Laningham wrote.

Gambling regulators “upset that balance, undemocratically and nontransparently, by tilting the scales in favor of the slots via nonpublic statutory interpretations communicated, not officially through proposed rules or formal declaratory statements, but privately (and possibly not even in writing) to Pompano Park and Calder,” he wrote, also referring to a Broward County pari-mutuel that has slot machines.

The “connected and contiguous to” requirement in the law is designed to “protect and benefit the live gaming operation” of which the horsemen are an integral part, Van Laningham wrote.

The requirement “guards against the slot machine operation from becoming the tail that wags the dog, by requiring at least a kind of structural parity” between the slot-machine playing area and the live gaming facility, the administrative law judge added.

Gambling regulators’ interpretation of the law, however, harmed the horsemen not only in a financial way, but also because it “diminishes the importance of live gaming relative to slot machine gaming,” Van Laningham wrote.

“Consider Calder’s current configuration. For slot machines, there is a new casino. For live gaming, in stark contrast, there is a collapsible canopy tent where the grandstand used to be, near the apron, and some outdoor seating, trackside. The unmistakable message is that the live horse races, having declined in popularity, have been degraded, demoted, reduced to second-class status; horse racing is no longer the main attraction, but an afterthought,” he added.

Van Laningham also found that Calder was ineligible for the slots license because the outdoor areas that replaced the grandstand do not meet the statutory requirements for a “live gaming facility” because they are “non-building facilities.”

Van Laningham’s order recommends that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation strip Calder of its license. Under administrative law, the issue now goes back to the department, which includes the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, for a final order.

Lawyers for Calder have accused the horsemen of trying to force the track to build a glitzy new stadium despite a dramatic decline in horse betting that prompted the destruction of the aged grandstand.

In general, the horsemen want slots players to be able to view live races, believing that seeing the activity will enhance the odds that gamblers will also wager on horses.

Friday’s ruling is contrary to a decision last year by Administrative Law Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson, who sided with gambling regulators and Calder in a similar dispute over the pari-mutuel’s slots license.

Demolition of the grandstand began in 2015 and was completed in 2016, but the live viewing areas “still contain outdoor seating and tiki huts where patrons can get food and drinks, view the race track, and wager on live racing events,” Stevenson wrote in the Sept. 4 ruling.

The distance between the old grandstand and the current pari-mutuel wagering area “is roughly the same as it was” before the grandstand was torn down, Stevenson noted.

It’s not a problem if some portions of the walkway between the outdoor wagering area and the indoor facility are not covered, he decided.

“The casino remains where it was in 2010. The wagering area on the racetrack apron has not moved. The only change in the Calder facility is the demolition of the grandstand building,” the judge wrote. “The entire property remains under the control of Calder. Nothing obstructs passage between the casino and any other portion of the Calder property.”


No one is above the law...

Who cares?

Judges can be so stupid. The reason the state reg. agency approved it was the common sense knowledge Calder can build a totally enclosed hallway connecting the 2 facilities. Fifteen minutes of fame seeking Judge Van Landingham: where has your common sense gotten up and ran away to? And it took you 57 pages to "grand-stand your lack of common sense idiocy"??? Judge sit down, shut up, and let Colt school you on what you snoozed thru way back in law school. You should have dismissed the case with the provision that Calder build out such a hallway in 90 days. But no you opted for the " hey hey hey look at me in my 15 minutes of fame" self serving method... and took you 57 pages to do it? You Sir with all due respect: ARE AN IDIOT! And keep in mind I have toned my wording down as much as possable considering you hold title as a "Judge" here in Florida. And Judge do not even get me started on the honest and good Citizens of The State of Florida you put out of work due to your decision. If I have to discuss that aspect I will loose any ability to continue toning down my wording. Judge oh Judge why did you not consider the casino workers children, their mortgages, their car payments? Why did you also steal the jobs of the workers who would have built Calder's beautiful enclosed, decorated, air conditioned hallway connecting the 2 facilities? And finally in closing: Judge Van Landingham did you notice how it did NOT take me 57 pages to explain to The good citizens of The Great State of Florida exactly why you are an idiot? Well if you did not learn anything from my words of wisdom at least you are now aware of your idiot status. DO BETTER SIR!!!

One can only wonder about the source of "Colt's" vitriol.

I'm sure he would probably take more notice if you learned how to spell...

Thank you Ms. Grundy my 7th grade English teacher. I knew you would show up at some point in my life to torment me again. Spank Ouch Spank Ouch may I have another please Ms. Grundy?

Is this ruling going to be called Racist, Sexist, or some kind of phobic? The casino owners must not have been thinking ahead when they formed their board. My other question, since I've only heard stories about this place, is...are there ever any races run there with more than 4 horses at a time?

Finally a Judge that gets it. The tracks were never suppose to compete with casinos. They are live sporting events you can bet on. Card rooms and slots were added to supplement their income---not to become their primary activity.

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