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Nancy Smith

Senate Committee Produces 'Impressive Draft Legislation' for Changes in Gaming Law

February 24, 2014 - 6:00pm

All of a sudden it's game back on for gambling in the 2014 Florida Legislature.

Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and his Senate Gaming Committee staff released three proposed committee bills Monday that together would bring sweeping changes to Florida's gambling law.

The bills are posted online and are included in the notice for the Senate Gaming Committee meeting at 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 3.

The proposals are the result of nearly a year's work for Richter's committee and more than $400,000 in taxpayer money spent to review the economic impact of allowing resort casinos in the Sunshine State.

If approved without change on the floor of the Legislature, and if signed by the governor, the comprehensive gaming act would become effective this year. But among the proposals is a requirement that any expansion after that would need statewide voter approval; municipalities and counties chosen for destination resorts will also have to vote for them.

Passage would allow one destination resort casino each in Miami-Dade and Broward counties; allow slot machines in six more counties; and the entire gaming industry would be subject to regulation under a new Department of Gaming Control, headed by a five-member board appointed by the governor.

Further, slot machines could be a "go" for the Palm Beach Kennel Club and dog tracks with card rooms could run fewer live races but be required to report all greyhound injuries.

The draft bills are only the beginning of what is likely to be a long conversation.

Said Richter, "The committee will not vote to introduce any of the bills at the March 3 meeting. Rather, I will present the bills and answer questions. Then, over a series of several meetings, we will take time to answer your questions, consider amendments, and finally introduce bills that are well-crafted and thoroughly vetted. The committee will decide whether the number of meetings required is two, three, or more."

In a written press statement, Associated Industries of Florida's pro-gaming group Best for Florida praised Richter for developing "impressive draft legislation that clears away all the smoke, misinformation and untruths and brings a clear focus on the benefits a limited number of integrated resorts will have in South Florida."

Said AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney, We salute the hard work of the members of the Senate Gaming Committee and Chairman Garrett Richter who traveled across the state, listened to concerned Floridians and now are poised to tackle this complicated issue this year. ...

We also deeply appreciate the leadership of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli as this process begins to boldly reshape the states badly outdated gaming policies. We look forward to seeing the members of the House put a thoughtful plan on the table so both chambers can engage in a meaningful discussion about Floridas strategic direction going forward. ..."

Here is a description of the three gambling bills provided by the Senate Office -- SPB 7052 being the most comprehensive:

SPB 7050: Gambling A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state Constitution that any additional gambling authorized by law will not take effect until a public ballot measure is approved by a majority of voters statewide;

SPB 7052: Gaming A comprehensive act relating to gaming;

SPB 7054: Public Records/Gaming Control Providing an exemption for proprietary confidential business information in specified applications.

SPB 7052, relating to gaming, is 453 pages. As previewed at committee meetings Feb. 3 and Feb. 10, it does the following:

Creates a Joint Legislative Gaming Control Oversight Committee with jurisdiction over gaming control and the state lottery;

Creates a new Department of Gaming Control, headed by a five-member board appointed by the governor (transfers the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering from DBPR);

Authorizes the governor to negotiate amendments to the Seminole Gaming Compact, subject to ratification by the Legislature;

Substantially expands Ch. 551, Fla. Stat. to include not only slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities, but also pari-mutuel wagering (transferred from ch. 550), cardrooms (transferred from s. 849.086), destination casino resorts, and authorized games (e.g., charitable bingo, commercial sweepstakes, amusement arcades, bowling tournaments, and penny-ante games; transferred from ch. 849);

Authorizes the Gaming Control Board to issue invitations to negotiate for awarding one destination casino resort in Miami-Dade County and one destination casino resort in Broward County, subject in each county to approval in a countywide referendum;

Updates specifications and prize limits for amusement games or machines;

Provides for injury reporting at greyhound tracks or kennels; and

Requires a greyhound racing facility operating a card room to conduct a full schedule of live races (instead of 90 percent of the number of races in the prior year).

Richter said, "My instructions to professional staff were to reform the current patchwork of laws into an orderly structure and to avoid making substantive changes other than in the few areas described above. The proposed committee bill organizes regulatory, tax, and purse provisions by industry, making requirements and exceptions much easier to comprehend. It also repeals some provisions that our professional staff determined to be obsolete."

No Casinos President John Sowinski quickly responded Monday to the Senate Gaming Committee's bills.

Its Christmas in February for out-of-state gambling interests, and their entire wish list can be found in these bills, he said. The bills are a contradiction to the yearlong study conducted by the committee. ... This legislation reeks of gambling interest influence.

No Casinos, with 23 lobbyists on board, has been an active player on the opposition side of the fight.

In an election year, especially when the governor is talking about gambling as little as possible and must rework the state's valuable compact with the Seminole Tribe, anything can happen.

Cries of bribery are heard on both sides of the fence. Gambling interests are said to have donated more than $3.4 million to Florida lawmakers since 2012, while Disney on the other side of the issue has contributed $1.7 million. Both sides are on pace to almost double their spending from the previous election cycle.

Said AIF's Feeney of the Senate Committee's work, AIF has been a longtime supporter of this bold effort to create jobs and boost convention and trade show tourism through the establishment of (an) integrated resort(s). This effort is balanced with responsible steps to improve Floridas gaming regulatory environment.

"We look forward to working with lawmakers as this legislation moves through the process. This is a very substantive proposal that we will review closely to make sure the proposed reforms will indeed be the best for Florida.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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