A trio of gaming bills that had been flying through the Senate, passing three committees in one week, have now stalled on the Senate floor. The interruption came as murmurs swirled of a new gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe.
Two of the bills would establish a gaming commission, and the third removes the live racing requirement for certain gaming permit holders.
House companion legislation is slightly behind the Senate bills in the process, but House Speaker Chris Sprowls said a compact agreement with the Tribe could affect the gaming bills.
“Should the Governor sign a compact in the next several days, I think one of the discussion points that the chambers need to have is, well does it really make sense to deal with these issues now,” Sprowls said.
Sprowls said a Special Session could be called to deal with the compact and the gaming bills since there is not enough time left in the Session to take up a new agreement.
“I anticipate there would be a Special Session to deal with these issues,” Sprowls speculated.
The Senate bills originated in the Regulated Industries Committee. Sen. Travis Hutson chairs that committee.
While Hutson has said the bills could work with or without an agreement with the Seminole Tribe, Hutson made that statement before recent reports suggested a deal is imminent. Notably, the reports say the deal could cover sports betting, which would mark an expansion of gaming in Florida and could make a regulatory commission, which one of the bill’s establishes, more relevant.
Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. released a statement on the assumed deal.
“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is committed to a mutually-beneficial gaming compact with the state of Florida and looks forward to its approval by the Florida Legislature, the Seminole Tribe Council and the U.S. Department of the Interior,” Osceloa said.
The state and the Seminoles had 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. The possible deal is rumored to net the state $500 million a year from the Tribe.
The Senate bills were temporarily postponed Wednesday and Thursday. All three pieces of the legislation have received bipartisan votes in past committee meetings. House companion legislation similarly snaked its way through committees.
One of the bills (SB 7076) establishes the Florida Gaming Control Commission 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.
Details of the Gaming Control Commission’s criminal investigations would be kept out of the public eye under a public records exemption bill (SB 7078).
A third new piece of gaming legislation (SB 7080) 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. If the bill is passed, decoupling would be allowed, which means race tracks could still allow gaming such as slot machines even if no live racing is taking place.
The harness horse racing community testified during committee meetings that decoupling makes live racing less important to race tracks and could have a negative impact on their industry.
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.