As Session creeps to close, blockbuster gambling deal emerges

gambling gaming cards chips

A consortium of pari-mutuel owners is working on a proposal to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agree to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums, industry sources told Florida Politics early Wednesday.

The play is to match or beat the revenue share—estimated at $200 million-$300 million a year going forward—coming from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for their exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida and to offer blackjack.

The proposal now is to guarantee $250 million in “slot machine taxes and license fees to the state,” as provided by the most recent strike-all amendment in the Senate.

Sen. Travis Hutson, the St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, plans to put that amendment on the House bill (HB 7067) already passed off the floor and ask to go to conference on the legislation this week.

Request for comment to Hutson and to Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, who would lead gambling bill negotiations in conference, are pending. The Tribe does not comment on any pending negotiations related to gambling legislation, spokesman Gary Bitner said.

The dog and horse tracks got more time as lawmakers failed to finalize a state budget on time to finish the 2018 Legislative Session this Friday. Session, at least for now, looks likely to continue at least through Monday.

But one owner says he doesn’t have his hopes up.

“I guess we’ll see, but I’m not optimistic,” said that person, who asked not to be named, citing ongoing talks. “I don’t know why anyone expects anything to change. (The House and Senate) are too far apart.” The House opposes any new slots.

Moreover, 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.

The plan in the works is to guarantee a total annual pot of money from all the facilities, instead of per facility, one source said.

It would also satisfy Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s desire for “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state, insiders say. Here’s how: Pari-mutuels that have facilities in counties where a slots referendum passed would get the machines if they give up active gambling licenses elsewhere.

For example, the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates facilities in Gretna, Gadsden County, where a slots referendum passed, and a greyhound track in Pensacola. They’d have to agree to shut down greyhound operations to get slots in Gretna.

“Right now, I would trade in permits I have to get slots, absolutely,” said the pari-mutuel owner, who’s not connected to the Poarch.

But if legislators fail to agree on legislation by Sine Die and the constitutional amendment on gambling passes, that same owner says he’s washing his hands of The Process—and of political contributions to state lawmakers.

“They’ll never see any of my money ever again,” the owner said. “Why bother?”

Updated 2:15 p.m. — The Senate bill was temporarily postponed on the floor.

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

  • Michael

    March 7, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    This is what trash the owners of these facilities are. They think that because they can pool money together and throw it in the ring to buy a piece of the action shows that they don’t give a damn about what the people want. It’s all about them and only them. They are so afraid of the Voters in Charge it’s comical. The nonsense that the Senate and the facility owners are conjuring up everyday shows weak desperation.

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