Sucker bet? Gambling bills on the move in both chambers


The House and Senate gambling bills were heard separately Friday, but one lawmaker already is folding his hand.

“The chances of a gaming bill passing this session are none,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat. “Let’s go home.”

A strike-all amendment had been OK’d on the Senate’s legislation (SB 840) in the Appropriations Committee, clearing it for the floor. Later Friday, the House bill (HB 7067) was discussed and rolled to third reading. Senate President-designate Bill Galvano has said he hopes to get the bills into conference next week.

Lawmakers are under self-imposed pressure to pass comprehensive gambling legislation this year, something they haven’t been able to accomplish for years.

That’s because a “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes, the measure would give voters the power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida, likely freezing out lawmakers indefinitely.

But the two chambers—as is usually the case in gambling—are still far apart on policy. That includes one provision that authorizes slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties where voters previously OK’d them in local referendums. That was added to the Senate bill Friday; it’s not in the House’s bill.

Both sides of the Legislature include a renewed deal for Seminole Tribe of Florida: Exclusive rights to offer blackjack statewide and to have slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The state in return gets $3 billion over the first seven years.

Even there, however, the Senate has the deal—known as the Seminole Compact—at 22 years from enactment; the House has 20 years.

Both bills were gummed up Friday by last-minute pushes to expressly legalize pre-reveal games, amusement consoles that look and play like slot machines and that the Seminoles object to as a violation of their slots exclusivity.

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling that the games are illegal slots is under appeal. That decision came after a rehearing; Cooper at first decided they were legal.

In the Senate, Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens tried to tack on an amendment that he ultimately withdrew.

In the House, members argued for a half-hour over a similar amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, that was eventually voted down. He said pre-reveal games can’t be illegal gambling because they’re amusements, not games of chance.

“Can you think of any amusement machine that you can put money in and receive more money back?” asked Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican. Jacquet said yes, comparing pre-reveal play to winning a teddy bear from a claw machine.

Asked later why people play pre-reveal if there’s no element of chance, Jacquet said: “I don’t want go into the psychology of gamers. I don’t know why people sit for eight hours in front of a GameStation.”

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].


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