Gambling Legislation Advances In Florida; Senate, House May Seek Compromise

Two disparate gambling bills advanced through the Florida legislature on Thursday, one dramatically expanding the number of facilities permitting slot machines and the other keeping things mostly status quo.

Senate Bill 8, passed by the full Senate in a 32-6 vote, would permit slot machines at existing pari-mutuel facilities (mostly greyhound racing tracks) in eight counties where local referenda were passed: Brevard (east of Orlando), Duval (Jacksonville), Gadsden (Gretna, in the Florida panhandle where barrel racing and later flag drop races were staged to obtain a pari-mutuel permit and poker permit), Hamilton (near the Georgia border where similarly farcical horse races were conducted), Lee (Fort Myers), Palm Beach (West Palm Beach), St. Lucie (Ft. Pierce) and Washington (west of Tallahassee).

Senate Bill 8 also would permit greyhound and some horse racing pari-mutuel permitholders to continue to operate their slots facilities without conducting live racing or jai-alai, a move known as decoupling. Those permitholders would contribute annually toward a pool of purse money and breeder awards for horse racing. It also would allow slots permitholders in Miami Dade and Broward counties (Gulfstream Park, for example) to add blackjack to their wagering menu.

Senate Bill 8 also contains a clause that appears to disqualify Hialeah Park from keeping its slots license, the apparent result of a long-simmering dispute between track owner John Brunetti and others in the business.

Senate Bill 8 does not contain a clause, found in an earlier version of the bill, that would make it a felony to wager on pari-mutuel races outside of a licensed facility, via advance deposit wagering.

House Bill 7037 passed the Commerce Committee by a 19-11 vote and is headed to the House floor. It does not expand wagering or permit pari-mutuel permitholders to “decouple” their slots license from their pari-mutuel license. It guarantees a virtual gambling monopoly to the Seminole Tribe, which would pay $3 billion to the state, in areas north of Miami Dade and Broward counties.

If the House bill passes, leaders from the two chambers could meet in the state capitol in Tallahassee as early as next week to work out compromise language.

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