Wide-Ranging Gambling Legislation Poised To Pass During Florida Special Session

Gambling legislation is racing through Florida’s House and Senate during a special session in Tallahassee that would permit the Seminole tribe to operate sports betting and allow decoupling of card rooms and casinos from Quarter Horse racing and jai-alai operations.

According to multiple reports, the Senate approved a 30-year compact between the state and the Seminoles that will guarantee $500 million to the state for the first five years. The tribe can offer sports betting at its casinos along with mobile sports wagering. Pari-mutuel operations can contract with the Seminoles to accept sports wagering and split revenue on a 60/40 basis.

An original version of the decoupling bill included all non-Thoroughbred tracks, but a last-minute amendment in a House committee removed Standardbred tracks from the language. That could breathe new life into harness racing at Isle Casino at Pompano Park, the state’s only Standardbred facility.

Caesars, the track’s owner, may have another option to end harness racing by pairing its casino license with a jai-alai permit, similar to how Churchill Downs Inc. has ended racing at the former Calder Race Course (now Gulfstream Park West) by acquiring a dormant jai-alai permit.

The decoupling bill means that Churchill Downs Inc. could continue to operate its Calder Casino without conducting pari-mutuel jai-alai games. There are at least four other jai-alai facilities in the state.

Casinos or card rooms at Florida greyhound tracks already were decoupled after a ballot initiative made the sport illegal at the end of 2020. The new legislation that is poised to be approved on Wednesday will allow all jai-alai frontons and horse tracks that have offered amateurish Quarter Horse match races to put an end to those events. That includes Oxford Downs south of Ocala, Hialeah Park near Miami and facilities in Gadsden, Hamilton and Hillsborough County.

Thoroughbred tracks are not allowed to decouple from their casino or card room operations, meaning racing at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs is protected for now. However, the Thoroughbred tracks are put at a financial disadvantage compared with the casinos and card rooms that will be decoupled (and no longer required to operate racing or jai-alai).

Read more at Tallahassee Democrat

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