The Florida Senate and House of Representatives on Friday filed their gambling legislation for the 2016 Legislative Session, including the $3 billion Seminole Compact, a proposed “voter control of gambling expansion” amendment and two different rewrites of the state’s gambling code.
The Senate’s version, posted at 4:29 p.m., is 81 pages and the House’s is 102 pages. There are many similarities – and some stark differences.
Both include provisions for two new permits in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to offer slot machines, for example, but the Senate would make them available to the highest bidder while the House would seek the most qualified operator.
Gambling lobbyists were still digesting the measures Friday night, with some even contradicting each other as to what the various sections would mean for different gambling interests, hinting at the complexity – or confusion – of the documents.
“I don’t think you’ll find anything revolutionary in there,” state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz told FloridaPolitics.com. He’s the Miami Republican who chairs the House Regulatory Affairs Committee that oversees gambling issues. “But we tried to produce as clean a bill as possible.”
Still, one group’s reaction is no doubt a taste of how contentious a process moving such bills will be.
Among the provisions of both rewrite bills (PCB RAC 16-02/SPB 7072) is allowing a certain level of “decoupling,” the removing of the requirement that dog and horse tracks run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, like slots and card rooms. Specifically, it affects greyhound, harness and quarter-horse racing.
That has already sparked the ire of the state’s horse breeders, trainers and owners, who have said any kind of decoupling will kill their industry.
“The partial decoupling plan now exposed with the filing of today’s bills would … eliminate Florida’s ability to compete for horse racing business with other states,” said a news release from United Florida Horsemen. “Decoupling will deal a permanent crippling blow to Florida’s lucrative horse racing and cornerstone breeding industry.”
In Marion County alone, the release added, “The horse industry’s annual economic impact has been measured at $2.62 billion and nearly 20,000 jobs – completely dwarfing any Seminole Compact estimates.”
The horsemen say any step toward decoupling is “simply a stepping-stone that would shoehorn a full-fledged statewide expansion of gambling at the expense of thousands of small businesses and their employees who make up Florida’s horse racing market.”
“Look, we know it’s not a perfect product, and that there are plenty of experts who will tell us what’s wrong with it,” Diaz said. “It’s far from being finished.”
The Senate bill also expressly allows a type of card gambling, “designated player games,” now being targeted by Gov. Rick Scott’s state gambling regulators.
“A cardroom operator that does not possess slot machines or a slot machine license may offer designated player games consisting of players making wagers against another player,” the measure says. “The maximum wager in such games may not exceed $25.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, filed administrative complaints against seven racetracks that offer the poker-style card games. That same department had called them “in compliance” with state gambling law as recently as last July, records show.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida, whose casinos compete with tracks in South Florida and elsewhere that also offer cards and slots, brokered a deal with Scott that lets them keep exclusive rights to offer blackjack, first granted in 2010 and expired last year.
The new agreement, or compact, guarantees the state $3 billion from the tribe’s casino revenues over seven years if approved by lawmakers and federal Indian gambling regulators.
When asked whether the two chambers might use a conference process for a final bill, Diaz said, “I would say it’s a possibility, but one that’s currently not being contemplated.” (A conference committee includes members of both the House and Senate to reconcile differences between bills, such as that used to produce a state budget each year.)
The first hearings on the bills are Tuesday, in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee at 11:30 a.m. and the Senate Regulated Industries Committee at 1:30 p.m., records show.