The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed an appeals court’s ruling, clearing the way for greyhound track operators to operate satellite card rooms without live racing.
The Court upheld the constitutionality of a 2009 law that allowed jai alai permit holders to convert unused permits to greyhound permits. The law also allowed greyhound permit holders to open card rooms despite the absence of racing activity, provided certain conditions were met.
Under the law, a jai alai permit could be converted in a county in which the state “has issued only two pari-mutuel permits” and only if the jai alai games had not been performed there for at least 10 years and had not previously been converted from another class of permit.
In May, a First District Court of Appeal panel had decided that “only” meant precisely “no more and no fewer than two.” It also interpreted “has issued” to “has ever issued.” As a result, the panel found that permits in only two counties — and possibly a third in the future — would ever be eligible to apply the conversions and that the law therefore referred to a closed class.
But in a 30-page opinion written by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, the majority agreed with attorney Barry Richard, who represented the Palm Beach Kennel Club during oral arguments last year, that the lower court wrongly construed the words “only” and “has issued” when interpreting the statute. The different definitions would mean “there is a reasonable possibility that [the law] could apply to 10 of the 11 jai alai permits in the state,” Labarga wrote. The decision clears the way for the Palm Beach club and the Daytona Beach Kennel Club to open satellite card rooms.
The 5-1 decision, with Justice R. Fred Lewis dissenting and Justice Peggy A. Quince recused, reversed the First District Court’s decision to grant summary judgment to DeBary Real Estate Holdings LLC, which owns a quarter-horse permit in Volusia County but has never opened a facility.