Bill Would Set Up Florida Gaming Commission

A five-member gaming commission has been proposed by state Senator Maria Sachs (l.) that would be designed to centralize regulations of all kinds of gaming in Florida. The bill has both proponents and opponents.

State Senator Maria Sachs has proposed establishing a five-member gaming commission to be appointed by the governor. Under Sachs’ legislation, the new Department of Gaming would oversee “the activities of all gaming entities, to regulate their operations, to enforce gaming laws and regulations.” Currently, the state Department of Lottery conducts all legal lottery gaming and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services registers and regulates certain game promotions. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation oversees parimutuel wagering, card rooms and slot machines. Sachs’ legislation, Senate Bill 1198, would combine the gambling-related functions of those three departments.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli agreed that an oversight commission was needed. “I’ve always been a proponent of a gaming commission because I think we need a structure outside of the DBPR. It goes beyond just licensing. If you’re going to get into having gaming conversations, you should have a group of people whose focus every day is on gaming issues.”

However, Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos Inc., said, “We have historically opposed creating a new gambling bureaucracy and oppose it in this new bill. You only need a bigger bureaucracy if you have more gambling to regulate.”

And state Rep. Dana Young, who unsuccessfully sponsored a gambling overhaul package that included a gaming control board and a privately owned destination resort casino, said without similar legislation proposed for the upcoming session, it’s hard to justify spending taxpayer dollars to create a new state bureaucracy. “When we were looking at a private sector option I think it made sense because of the vast level of regulation that would be needed. There hasn’t been to my knowledge a significant outcry that somehow the revenues aren’t being treated properly or the regulations aren’t being enforced,” Young said

The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering regulates privately owned horse and greyhound racetracks and jai alai frontons and collects millions of dollars in tax revenue annually from their slot machines, card rooms and live events. The eight state-licensed South Florida parimutuels generate $42 million a month from slots, with one-third of that revenue going to the state. In 2014 these facilities earned $521.6 million, with the state getting $182.5 million. Card rooms at the state’s 13 greyhound tracks, five frontons, two thoroughbred tracks, two quarter-horse tracks and one harness track brought in $136 million last year, and the handle from live events was $780 million.