Gambling legislation starts rolling in FL House

Posted at 9:41 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 21:41:54-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday finally took up legislation that would allow the Seminole Tribe of Florida to add craps and roulette at its casinos.

A divided House panel voted in favor of a bill that would ratify a deal between the state and the tribe that would guarantee $3 billion to Florida over a seven-year period. The same committee also approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval for any future gambling expansion.

But it remains uncertain whether the entire Florida Legislature will approve the compact negotiated last year by Gov. Rick Scott with the tribe.

Florida's existing gambling industry remains competitive and many are lobbying fiercely to either kill, or make sweeping changes, to the proposed deal.

"Doing a gaming bill is like putting a queen-sized sheet on a king-sized bed," said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who is shepherding the gambling bills in the House. "It's impossible to accommodate the interests of every single person in the room."

Here's a look at what's going on:


Tuesday marked the first time during Florida's 60-day session that legislators took a vote on the proposed deal with the Seminoles. A House committee approved three separate bills dealing with gambling. The vote is noteworthy because, in the past, bills dealing with gambling have encountered stiff resistance in the House.

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But a Senate panel postponed a vote on the proposal.

Sen. Rob Bradley, the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, insisted that this didn't mean the bill was in trouble. Bradley said he and other legislators needed time to "digest" changes that several senators have proposed for the measure.



The $3 billion compact with the tribe would allow them to add craps and roulette to their casinos, including the ones in Hollywood and Tampa. The new compact would also allow the tribe to maintain blackjack tables. The Seminoles got permission to add blackjack tables back in 2010, but that provision expired last year. The state has asked the tribe to remove the tables, but the tribe has instead taken the issue to federal court.

The compact also includes provisions that would create a path to a new casino in Miami-Dade and the use of slot machines in Palm Beach County. Currently, state law limits slot machines to tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade County.



There are a lot of different factions opposed to the deal as it now stands.

Some want to extend slot machines to counties that have already approved them, which includes Brevard, Lee and several others. Diaz acknowledged that although the tribe could support slot machines in North Florida, it's against allowing them at tracks near their existing casino in southwest Florida. If lawmakers insist on major changes to the compact, then the tribe would argue it doesn't have to pay as much to the state.

Additionally, some are opposed to the measures because one of the gambling bills under consideration would allow greyhound tracks and some horse tracks to drop racing. Track owners like this provision because they could still keep poker rooms and slot machines without racing.

Anti-gambling opponents, citing the potential damage to Florida's tourism industry, are also opposed to what they call a massive expansion of gambling.



If lawmakers fail to reach a deal with the tribe, then it will be up to the courts to decide what happens next.

The Seminoles and the state of Florida have both filed lawsuits in federal court. The Florida Supreme Court also has agreed to consider a lawsuit that argues slot machines should be allowed at a track 25 miles west of Tallahassee.