House panel approves raft of gaming bills

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Opens In South Florida

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee approved a trio of bills that could reshape Florida’s gaming industry, mainly by ratifying a newly renegotiated compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and by separating pari-mutuel racing from the card games which have come to dominate those facilities.

A panel passed all three bills sponsored by its Chairman Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz by narrow majorities and with defections from Diaz’s fellow members of the GOP majority. Meantime, the Senate delayed consideration of the Compact for another week.

The House committee OK’d bills to give necessary legislative approval to the new compact agreed to the Seminoles and Gov. Rick Scott; change state gaming laws to allow for “decoupling” greyhound racing and casino-style gaming; and create a requirement that any subsequent expansion of gaming would require a statewide referendum.

“Seminole Tribe Chairman James E. Billie and members of the Tribal Council are heartened by the strong support for the Seminole Gaming Compact among members of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee and they want to especially thank Chairman Diaz and Ranking Member Moskowitz,” said spokesman Gary Bitner. “The Tribal Council again acknowledges the ongoing hard work of Gov. Rick Scott and Chairman Rob Bradley of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.”

House lawmakers were somewhere in a gray area: Wary of expansion but willing to accept it if they perceived they were getting a good deal.

Rep. John Wood was not among them. He joined a pair of Democrats on the panel in staunch opposition to the idea of expansion itself: “I’m not convinced we need gaming in Florida,” said Wood. “The people that push for it need us, but we don’t need them.”

The panel also heard from several horse breeders and trainers, who pleaded with lawmakers to remove decoupling of greyhound racing and card games. In recent years the latter games have become much more popular than racing, causing an imbalance in the deal struck between the two industries decades ago in Tallahassee.

Florida Greyhound Association lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Charlie Crist, said the compact as currently written would threaten the flow of tourists who come to Florida for its family-friendly atmosphere.

The bills dealing with the compact and parimutuels were combined by an amendment by Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz. The amendment binds them up should “similar” legislation pass, so that the new gaming rules cannot become law without ratifying the Seminole compact and vice versa.

Democratic Rep. David Richardson said he voted down on the bills “as a matter of principle,” citing a lack of inclusion of Democrats in the conversation. South Florida counterpart Rep. Irv Slosberg and Democrat Rep. Darryl Rouson, for their part, voted in favor.

Wood introduced amendments on multiple occasions to make the legislation subject to voters approval. Those amendments failed, which Wood said led to his voting ‘No’ on the measures which passed.

Chairman Diaz said Wood’s amendment would weaken the state’s negotiating position with the Seminole Tribe.

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.



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