Florida Gambling Bill Still Changing

Destination casino resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties no longer are included in Florida state Rep. Dana Young's expansive gambling bill, which still would permit decoupling by allowing greyhound tracks to offer gambling options without running live races and allow slots at Tampa Bay Downs (l.). The Seminoles’ exclusive rights to blackjack and other card games likely will continue for another year.

In Florida, HB 1233, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dana Young, is going through some changes. The House Finance & Tax Committee voted 10-8 to allow decoupling live greyhound racing from gambling options like slots and poker rooms. As a result, greyhound racing could end altogether. An amendment allowing decoupling at horse tracks and jai alai frontons with slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties failed.

A newer version of the bill now includes a provision allowing barrel racing as a parimutuel activity. It still would allow slot machines at greyhound tracks in Lee and Palm Beach counties, authorize non-binding countywide referendums for any future destination casino resorts and establish a statewide gambling commission. A provision that would have allowed two destination casino resorts in South Florida already had been dropped from the bill.

Earlier this month, the bill cleared the House Regulatory Affairs Committee in a 14-4 vote, but that version has changed.

The bill now will go to the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by conservative, anti-gambling future Speaker Richard Corcoran. No meetings are scheduled, requiring a special one to hear the bill. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli could have the bill sent directly to the floor, but it’s doubtful that supporters have enough Republican votes for passage.

Asked for her thoughts regarding the bill’s chances, Young said, “One step at a time.”

The Senate’s version of the gambling bill also is unlikely to pass, said Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley. “Nothing’s changed as far as the Senate’s position is concerned. We think that the first thing we need to deal with is the Seminole compact. And, until we have some resolution of the compact, then it is premature to turn to these other issues,” he said.

Bradley proposed SB 7088, an extension of the Seminole agreement for another year, which would give the tribe exclusive rights to banked card games such as blackjack at five of its seven casinos. That deal will expire at the end of July. Governor Rick Scott’s office and tribal leaders have been unable to agree on terms of renewal.

The Senate bill also would allow the Tampa Bay Downs horse racetrack to share in slots revenue from elsewhere in the state. Currently, the track is the state’s only thoroughbred course without slots.

The Senate measure will move to its Appropriations and Rules committees.

Meanwhile, the Disney corporation’s reported plans to enter the daily fantasy sports industry is giving ammunition to proponents of destination resort casinos in South Florida ammunition, which Disney has been fighting to preserve the state’s “family friendly” image. Analysts said Disney’s upcoming investment of $250 million in DraftKings is a real deal, since it’s valued at $900 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. The deal includes exclusive advertising placement over the next three years, giving DraftKings a competitive advantage over FanDuel.

In the past Disney has followed through on its anti-gambling-expansion position, although proponents accuse Disney of attempting to protect its business interests. But when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, Marvel characters were common on lottery tickets and slot machines. Disney phased out those licensing agreements out as they expired. Disney also does not offer casinos on its cruise ships. Now gambling proponents are eager to point out the inconsistencies in Disney entering the daily fantasy sports segment, since DraftKings is well positioned to enter any future regulated sports betting industry.

Major League Baseball, which acquired a stake in DraftKings in 2013, recently banned players from participating in daily fantasy sports action under its gambling guidelines described under Rule 21. MLB did not actually declare the games gambling, but the decision was made to avoid any conflict of interest.

Analysts note that fantasy sports do not compete directly with Disney’s tourism business, unlike a 750,000 square foot casino resort in Dade County. Also, some luck is involved in fantasy sports but skill is the main factor, which gives the top 20 percent of players an advantage over the rest.