The Senate has quickly advanced gaming legislation that would add a regulatory authority for the state’s gaming industry and loosen certain regulations on pari-mutuel permit holders.
The Senate bills originated in the Regulated Industries Committee Monday and cleared their final Senate committee, Appropriations, Thursday.
House companion legislation cleared its first committee Wednesday.
Two of the bills would establish a gaming commission, and the third removes the live racing requirement for pari-mutuel permit holders.
The Florida Gaming Control Commission would reside within the Office of the Attorney General. The five-member committee would have law enforcement authority over gaming laws. Members would be appointed to four-year terms by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.
A second bill (SB 7078) deals with public records to keep details of the Gaming Control Commission’s criminal investigations out of the public eye.
A third gaming bill (SB 7080) has proved to be contentious among the horse racing community. The bill removes parts of a law governing pari-mutuel permit holders, including jai alai, harness, and quarter horse racing. Current Florida law requires a certain level of live racing or competition for pari-mutuel wagering to take place.
Under the bill, decoupling would be allowed, so race tracks could still allow gaming like slot machines even if no live racing is taking place.
“Many of the industries out there have asked for decoupling,” Hutson said. “If you look at things like jai alai, it’s not a profitable business. They’re losing money in order to keep their permit for their slot facility.”
But the harness racing industry is not in favor of decoupling. A representative from the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association said decoupling makes live racing less important to race tracks and could have a negative impact on their industry.
“The entire industry and the thousands of Floridians who depend on it for their income will have nowhere to go in this state,” Lauren Jackson, a lobbyist representing the association said.
The thoroughbred horse racing community had the option to decouple but decided not to in order to keep the thoroughbred horse racing industry from eroding.
Hutson has said the bills could work with or without an agreement with the Seminole Tribe over certain card gaming in the state.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to make good on a self-imposed deadline to strike a deal with the Seminole Tribe. The Governor said four weeks ago the issue would be resolved or taken off the table “within the next week or so.”
The state and the Seminoles have been locked in a fight over “designated player” card games offered at many pari-mutuel facilities throughout Florida. Those games led the Seminoles last year to stop making payments to the state that totaled at least $350 million annually.
Senate President Wilton Simpson struck a deal with the Seminoles two years ago, but DeSantis rejected the plan months after he took office in 2019, saying he needed more time to explore the matter.
News Service of Florida contributed to this article.