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All or nothing: House gambling bill moves to floor

A House panel on Monday cleared the chamber’s gambling legislation for 2018, making it available for the floor.

But the bill (HB 7067) still is far from the Senate position.

And it continues to bother Democrats by devoting money from gambling to the “Schools of Hope” backed by Speaker Richard Corcoran, which the minority party sees as a giveaway to privately-owned charter schools. 

Time is running out: The 2018 Legislative Session ends in less than two weeks.

Moreover, a proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot; if approved, it would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida. If they don’t get something done now, lawmakers may well be frozen out of influencing gambling.

Bill sponsor Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, said he expects both chambers to go to conference on the legislation. The Commerce Committee voted 15-11 for his bill; two Republicans, Monticello’s Halsey Beshears and Rockledge’s Tom Goodson, voted ‘no.’

“Unless the Senate wants to come to our position; we’ll take that,” La Rosa joked.

Fat chance.

For one example, the House proposal declares designated-player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s been lucrative for the pari-mutuels, to be “illegal and prohibited.” The Senate would allow them.

The House also favors “mandatory revocation of dormant and delinquent (gambling) permits,” allowing for “discretionary revocation of certain permits” and prohibiting new permits, conversion of permits and the transfer or relocation of pari-mutuel permits or licenses.

The Senate also allows the Seminole Tribe of Florida to add craps and roulette, and exempts fantasy sports from gambling regulation, a move opposed by the Tribe.

Corcoran has said that any language the House agrees to must be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state—though he hasn’t specifically defined that term.

La Rosa suggested that one point of compromise could be in a renewed gambling agreement known as the Seminole Compact, now in both bills.

The Seminole Tribe would get another 20 years of exclusive rights to offer blackjack statewide and to conduct slot machine gaming outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The state in return gets $3 billion over seven years. 

For now, the House divvies up that money three ways: A third to “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” another third to “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty,” and the final third to “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” or the Schools of Hope.

“School hardening is something that was discussed today, and that’s certainly on the table,” La Rosa said. “Maybe we can focus around that … maybe we add a fourth category, maybe we eliminate some. That’s absolutely on the table.”

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, charged with leading his chamber’s effort to forge a new gaming bill in 2018, has called for $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

That was in response to the shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 were killed, mostly students. Nikolas Cruz, 19, is now being held on premeditated murder charges.

The Senate bill (SB 840) still has to clear the Appropriations Committee before it can be heard on the floor; a next hearing had not been scheduled as of Monday afternoon. Galvano was in a Senate Rules Committee Monday and couldn’t be reached.

Written By

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 jim@floridapolitics.com.

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