DESTINATION RESORTS AT PLAY IN SENATE GAMBLING PLAN by Dara Kam
February 4, 2014
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 3, 2014..........Two stand-alone casinos in South Florida and allowing track operators to quit racing horses and dogs while keeping lucrative card rooms and slot machines are among the proposals on the table as the Florida Senate prepares to roll out its gambling overhaul.
Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter said Monday he plans to release a committee bill as early as next week that will address a swath of gambling issues, including a "gaming control" commission, "inconsistencies" in state law and "decoupling" racing from pari-mutuel permits that allow for slot machines and card rooms.
Richter expressed support for one "destination resort" permit each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Companies would have to bid for the permits, Richter said.
"There's not a chance that this legislature will consider a bill that will provide for unlimited casinos statewide,'' Richter, R-Naples, said.
But, he added, "I happen to think that a destination resort in Miami would be a good thing for the state of Florida. I think it will attract new revenue dollars.''
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters last week that his chamber would not consider an expansion of gambling unless it is accompanied by a constitutional amendment asking voters if they want to have a say in future gambling expansions.
Weatherford proposes setting the bar for gambling activities at whatever is currently allowed and whatever passes during this legislative session. Anything beyond that would require statewide voter approval.
But passage of a committee bill, which Richter said could be 300 pages, remains dubious because of all of the competing interests in the gambling arena.
"If we're going to be at 300 pages we're going to need some serious jet-powered head of steam behind this thing to get it off the ground. And the more stuff that's in it that looks like we're expanding gambling could make it very difficult to get lift," Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said after Richter laid out myriad "elements" he wants the bill to include.
"My objective is to get it off the ground," Richter said.
After the meeting, Richter acknowledged that success of a soup-to-nuts gambling revision would be a long shot and noted that complicated issues often take years to pass.
"This isn't the first session for these subjects. This is the umpteenth. I don't know if it's the umpteenth plus one that gets something done or the umpteenth itself that gets something done," Richter told reporters.
A $1 billion deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, part of which sunsets next year, poses another hurdle for lawmakers willing to open the door to gambling conglomerates eager to set up shop in the state.
The compact with the Seminoles gives them exclusive rights to hold banked card games in exchange for $1 billion over five years and allows them to stop paying if slot machines exist anywhere outside of Broward or Miami-Dade counties, except on tribal lands. The compact also allows the tribe to reduce its payments to the state if slot machines are allowed at any facilities that weren't already operating in Broward or Miami-Dade, except for Hialeah Race Track, when the deal was inked in 2010.
Richter said the destination resorts could cost the state $140 million a year in revenues --- about $100 million more than state economists projected --- from the tribe.
Richter is also likely to face fierce opposition to his suggestion that pari-mutuel operators "decouple" racing and jai alai games from card rooms and slot machines.
The state is "dictating to business people how they run their businesses," Richter said. "Businesses shouldn’t have to jump through loops or play games to meet regulatory obligations, especially if the regulatory obligations might be obsolete."
But leaving it up to track owners to decide whether they want to run dogs or horses could put breeders' livelihoods at risk, objected Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
"I don't think we can forget that a … a dog track is a dog track and a horse track is a horse track," Latvala said. "I would hesitate to support anything that would totally zero out racing."
The races and jai alai matches were what permitted operators to open poker rooms, as well as operate slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade, argued Lee.
"If we eliminate their obligation to operate as a pari-mutuel facility … we are de facto authorizing casinos in all of these pari-mutuel facilities. At that point, the question is why don't we revoke the licenses and put them out to bid?" Lee said.
Richter said the committee would not vote on the proposal at its next meeting Feb. 10 but would continue to debate the issues.
"This is going to be like changing the tires on a moving car," he joked.
Guest Opinion: Expansion of Gambling a Bad Bet for Florida
September 18, 2018
HOT OFF THE PRESSES!!! FLORIDA DECOUPLING FAILS AGAIN