2016 Legislative Food Fights: Gambling issues move from spotlight to supporting role


This is one of two gambling stories in advance of the 2016 Legislative Session. For a separate preview focussing on the Seminole Compact, click here.

A big gambling overhaul bill won’t be on the menu this legislative session, but expect a swirl of other gaming-related topics to bubble up, including fantasy sports play and creating a state gambling commission.

One not to expect is Las Vegas Sands’ effort to get a destination casino in South Florida. After trying unsuccessfully for years, the gambling giant finally pulled up stakes last year, letting go of lobbyist Nick Iarossi and others.

One of the hottest issues won’t be before lawmakers, however, it’ll be before the state’s highest court – though legislators surely will keep an eye on it.

The Florida Supreme Court already is gathering friend-of-the-court briefs for a challenge regarding slot machines. The question before the justices is: Are slot machines allowed outside of South Florida if local voters in a particular area approve of them?

The case directly involves a Gadsden County track and poker room run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It was repped last year by Wallace Gene McGee and Adam J. Roberts.

Of course, virtually every pari-mutuel in the state has an interest in the outcome, from Gulfstream Park (represented by lobbyist Marc Dunbar) to Palm Beach Kennel Club (Brian Ballard) and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track (Ron Book).

Fantasy sports play also is on the agenda, with bills filed by state Rep. Matt Gaetz and Senate President-designate Joe Negron that would make such games legal in Florida.

Here’s how it works: Players “draft teams that compete against each other based on the performance of real-world athletes,” as State Legislatures magazine recently explained.

“An estimated 56.8 million North Americans will participate this year, and each will spend around $465,” according to the magazine.

Is it gambling? Negron says no, that fantasy sports “is a contest based on skill,” and as such, “it’s no different than a bowling league.”

But Nevada has banned daily fantasy games as other states, including New York, are considering its legality. The U.S. Justice Department also is investigating.

The leading websites are lobbying up in advance of the Florida legislative session, with FanDuel now repped by Cory FoxJeremy Kudon and Scott Ward, and DraftKings hiring Griffin Finan, as well as Kudon and Ward.

Still other legislation (HB 415/SB 402) would allow people to buy lottery tickets at the gas pump. Both bills already have cleared several committees in both chambers.

The measures would require gas pumps to scan for a “valid driver license or use another age verification process” before dispensing a lottery ticket. In Florida, purchasers must be 18 or older.

The change would benefit equipment makers like GTECH Corp., for example. They were repped by Ballard last year; new representation hasn’t yet been listed on the state’s lobbying registration website.

Finally, Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs filed legislation for this session to create a state gambling commission. The five-member commission would oversee a new Department of Gaming, taking over current duties from the departments of Business and Professional Regulation, Lottery and Agriculture & Consumer Services.

The measure, at least in concept, is favored by Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, both Republicans.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Danny K SRQ

    January 12, 2016 at 9:56 am

    That argument that it’s skill is nonsense. In a bowling league, the player’s bowling skill affects the outcome. In fantasy sports, the people participating have zero control over the outcome. It’s a huge element of luck no matter how good you are at analyzing statistics. You can’t control for injuries.

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