A proposed one-year extension of a deal giving the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to banked card games such as blackjack morphed into a much broader gambling measure Wednesday, prompting Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley to vote against his own bill.
While Bradley's bill blossomed, House Majority Leader Dana Young dramatically scaled back her wide-ranging gambling proposal that would have allowed two Las Vegas-style casinos to open in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Bradley had wanted solely to give the tribe and the state another year to negotiate the agreement set to expire on July 1, but, as is generally the case with any gambling legislation, his proposal (SB 7088) became a vehicle for issues seemingly unrelated to the five-year card deal.
Before his committee's nearly two-hour meeting on the measure ended, senators had tacked on amendments that could do away with dog racing but allow greyhound-track operators to continue operating slot machines or card rooms; permit tracks and frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward to stop racing horses and holding jai-alai matches; and allow dog tracks in Lee and Palm Beach counties to add slots to their facilities.
The greyhound "decoupling" proposed by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would allow dog tracks to eliminate racing but keep other, more lucrative operations like poker rooms and slots.
Sen. Oscar Braynon surprised many gambling operators and lobbyists in the audience Wednesday with an amendment that would allow any pari-mutuels with slot machines to also do away with races or games if any other facility with slots stopped racing. The measure would apply to jai-alai frontons and horse tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties if any greyhound tracks stopped dog races.
"This is what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If we're doing it for one, we should do it for all," Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said. The amendment passed by a 7-5 vote.
And Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, pushed an amendment that would allow dog tracks in Palm Beach and Lee counties --- where voters have approved slots --- to add slot machines. A portion of the money from the slots revenues would go toward purses, or the money paid out to owners of horses, at Tampa Bay Downs. Abruzzo's effort garnered the support of Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican whose district includes the horse track, whose operators have pushed for slot machines to better compete with tracks that have slots in Broward and Miami-Dade.
Abruzzo laughed as he struggled to defend his proposal, saying it "would not expand gambling" because gambling already exists at the two dog tracks.
Bradley, on the losing side of a 7-5 vote on the overall bill, indicated that the measure was likely to undergo more changes before it reaches the Senate floor for a full vote, if that even happens before the legislative session ends May 1.
"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," Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told reporters after the meeting."We've got a ways to go."
Young's proposal, up for its first vote in a House committee on Thursday, includes the dog racing "decoupling" and a proposal about greyhound injury reporting, which passed the full Senate as a separate bill on the first day of session. 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.
Amendments expected to be filed related to Young's bill would add back the destination resorts, but only if Broward or Miami-Dade voters or county commissions approve the casinos. The amendments had not been filed early Wednesday evening.
Young said she pared back her original proposal after polling members of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee, which will hear the revised proposal on Thursday.
"I took notes and went through with the chairman and the speaker and said, 'These are the things that people care about.' There are certain things that people care less about," Young, R-Tampa, told The News Service of Florida.
The two bills' current status reflects where lawmakers may end up if any gambling legislation is approved this year, an effort that has repeatedly failed even after the Legislature spent $800,000 for a study on the issue two years ago.
"What you see with where the House is headed and what you see today is sort of a general, rough outline of some comfort levels on both sides. Obviously there are some things that people are not comfortable with, like destination casinos. So we're moving towards a goal, slowly but surely. I continue to say this all begins with what do with the (Seminole) compact," Bradley said.
Bradley said he recommended the one-year extension of the current card deal because the Seminoles, who have launched a publicity campaign including four television ads urging support for the compact, and the state have been unable to agree on a new accord.
"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," he said.