Florida Gambling Legislation Evolving

Similar gambling bills passed committees in both the Florida House and Senate, both allowing greyhound racetracks to decouple live racing from gambling, among other measures. The Senate version also would extend the Seminole Tribe's exclusive rights to blackjack for one year. Rep. Dana Young (l.) says her bill does not expand gaming, it contracts it.

Florida House and Senate Regulated Industries Committees recently approved gambling legislation. Both bills would allow the state’s dog racetracks to decouple live racing from poker rooms or slot machines; the Senate’s version also would allow decoupling at horse racetracks and jai alai frontons. Both measures also allow the dog tracks at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and the Naples/Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs to convert to racinos. Those communities approved separate ballot referendums in 2012 seeking voter approval for the games.

In addition, the bills require 10 percent of the tax revenue collected from the slots operations in Palm Beach and Lee counties to subsidize purses for horseracing at Tampa Bay Downs. The Senate version, SB7088, gives the remaining 90 percent of revenue to the Seminole Tribe as an enticement to get them to agree to the added games as part of compact negotiations. The bill also contains a one-year extension of the Seminole’s exclusive rights to operate blackjack and other card games, which will expire July 31. As far as the House is concerned, Speaker Steve Crisafulli said, “As we sit here today, there is nothing taking place in the House in regard to that issue.” Under the House proposal, HB 1233, the state would have to give up the $250 million in annual payments it receives from the tribe for card-game exclusivity.

The House committee also removed a provision to allow two casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but agreed to let county commissioners hold referendums on whether casinos should be allowed.

Analysts said a local vote would give cover to lawmakers who are hesitant to approve the plan to bring destination resort casinos into South Florida to compete with the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock resort in Hollywood.

House Majority Leader Dana Young said, “I do not support the expansion of gambling here in my beloved state of Florida. This bill does not do that. This bill contracts gaming.” Her revamped proposal (HB 1233) would also do away with dormant pari-mutuel permits, end “portability” of permits by requiring cardrooms and slots to stay at the locations where they were originally authorized and impose a moratorium on any new pari-mutuel permits.

Additional committees must approve both bills and they’re likely to undergo more changes before they reach the full House and Senate for a vote before the legislative session ends May 1. Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley said, “I would suspect that if we have a gaming bill come out of the Senate that it will look probably a bit different than what you saw come out of this committee today. What you see is a few elements that continue to be in play. We’re moving towards a goal, slowly but surely. I continue to say this all begins with what do with the Seminole compact.”

Bradley added, “We’re going to continue to talk to the tribe to see if there’s some common ground. But right now it’s just a bridge too far between the tribe and the state. Are we going to close that bridge before the end of session? We now have in play a vehicle to make sure the relationship continues if we don’t meet the distance between the parties before the end of session.”

Meanwhile, an anti-gambling video called “The Mayors” is playing on YouTube, featuring Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer saying, “We need solutions that don’t make us the next Atlantic City.” Produced by Protecting Florida’s Future, a PAC chaired by former state Rep. Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas, the video also features the mayors of Bradenton, Miami and Miami Beach.