Pointing to a "strained reading" of state law, an appeals court Wednesday overturned a decision by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that denied a jai alai permit for the operators of Miami-Dade County's Hialeah Park.
The ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal stemmed from an application by South Florida Racing Association — which operates Hialeah Park — for what is known as a "summer" jai alai permit. That application was based on a state law that addresses summer jai alai permits for gambling establishments that can show they have collected the smallest amounts of pari-mutuel wagers two consecutive years in certain counties.
Effectively, South Florida Racing Association sought to use the law to keep its current pari-mutuel permit and seek approval for a jai alai permit, Wednesday's ruling said. But the dispute focused on whether South Florida Racing Association or another pari-mutuel operator, West Flagler Associates — parent company of Magic City Casino — had the smallest total amount of wagers, or "pool," during the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The department turned down the South Florida Racing Association jai alai application because it said West Flagler had a smaller total. But the appeals court rejected that decision because it said the department only looked at wagers placed at the Miami-Dade tracks and did not take into consideration bets placed remotely, known as intertrack wagering. When both numbers were included, South Florida Racing Association collected $1.46 million in wagers, while West Flagler collected $1.94 million during the 2012-13 fiscal year, the ruling said.
"It takes a very strained reading to contort the statutory language into the department's adopted interpretation," said the 15-page ruling, written by Judge Leslie Rothenberg and joined by judges Richard Suarez and Kevin Emas.