CASINO

Florida’s resort casinos hopes fade after frenzied debate over gambling bills

TAGs: florida

florida-resort-casinos-doomedFlorida legislators continue to wrestle with new gambling bills but hopes are fading for approval of resort casinos in 2015.

Both of Florida’s legislative bodies were considering how to remake the state’s gambling landscape on Wednesday. In the House, GOP leader Rep. Dana Young submitted a dramatically revised version of her gambling reform bill that scrubbed any mention of destination resort casinos in either Miami-Dade or Broward counties. Young’s slim-downed HB 1233 now seeks only to end the requirement that the state’s 12 greyhound tracks actually put on live races in order to qualify to host slot machines and poker games.

However, Rep. Rich Workman offered an amendment to HB 1233 that would allow resort casinos, provided such plans receive local approval by year’s end, either via a referendum or a positive vote by the county commission. Workman’s amendment – which he himself referred to as a “jump ball” – will be considered by the House Regulated Industries Committee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the state Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved amendments to its SPB 7088 on Wednesday. The bill, which seeks a temporary extension of certain aspects of the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, was also amended to allow greyhound track operators to continue to offer slots even if they stop offering live racing. This ‘decoupling’ push came about because the state spends $3m more per year regulating dog racing than it collects in tax revenue from the activity.

But the proposal received pushback from the state’s pari-mutuel racing operators and jai alai frontons, who complained that dog tracks were being given an unfair competitive advantage. That led to another amendment that extended the decoupling option to pari-mutuels and frontons, allowing everyone to finally drop the façade that they’re anything more than slots operators.

As for the Seminoles, SPB 7088 would extend the tribe’s monopoly on house-banked card games by one year. This exclusivity is set to expire July 31 and the government was mulling opening up the business to other operators. But gaming remains a highly contentious subject in the Sunshine State and the government now fears the deadline will arrive before the various stakeholders can reach consensus.

Further complicating matters, the Committee approved an amendment that would quash the Seminole’s slots monopoly outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties. That portion of the compact still has 15 years before it expires, but the Committee voted to allow slots at dog tracks in West Palm Beach and Naples-Fort Myers.

The amendment mayhem got so out of control that Sen. Rob Bradley, who chairs the committee and sponsored SPB 7088, ended up voting against his own bill.

The day’s events served primarily to expand the gulf between the House and Senate bills, decreasing the likelihood of the two legislative bodies being able to resolve their differences in time for a vote before the current session ends May 1. The only likely consensus to emerge will be the one-year extension of the Seminoles’ compact, if only to avoid the ensuing legal carnage that would result if no action were taken.

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