Free booze, 24/7 slots & cards: Pari-mutuels pony up new language for big gambling deal

The Legislature will have a week to pass the Seminole Gaming Compact and related bills.

Ahead of an upcoming Special Session, lobbyists representing a large swath of Florida’s gaming industry are sending a package of recommendations to offices of the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker.

Lawmakers expect to debate proposed amendments to four bills (HB 7053/SB 7076 & HB 7055/SB 7080) that leadership tabled last month after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new Seminole Tribe Compact.

A coalition of some of the most powerful pari-mutuel interests reached a consensus on that draft language, which spans 42 amendments.

In 10 days, the Legislature will convene for a one-week session dedicated to gaming. Among the priorities are approving the Gaming Compact and passing parallel legislation, including establishing a regulatory gaming commission.

If blessed, the compact is expected to bring the state $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030.

Some of the pari-mutuels’ recommendations relate to casino operations.

Under the industry consensus, slot machines and card rooms could operate 24/7. Currently, they are limited to 18 hours during the week but can operate 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Complimentary alcoholic beverages and ATMs would also be available at slot machines.

Slot machine license holders could also have their licenses extended if hurricanes or other crises beyond their control shuttered their operations.

Several changes are related to the Florida Gaming Control Commission, a proposed law enforcement agency within the Attorney General’s Department of Legal Affairs.

One provision would prevent the commission from changing gaming rules in a way that would reduce the state’s tax revenue. That’s an attempt to limit the oversight panel’s ability to restrict ongoing games.

Other recommendations would limit who can serve on the commission and obtain licenses.

Another proposal would eliminate the Seminole Tribe’s right to initiate investigations by the commission, as the bills are currently drafted.

The new language would also stop the state from issuing new permits. However, relocations would be allowed.

Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have agreed to open the Capitol to the public for the first time in 14 months Friday in advance of the Special Session set to start May 17.

A group called No Casinos is already threatening to challenge the compact in court even if it does get ratified. John Sowinski, President of No Casinos, said the compact violates Amendment 3, which says any gambling expansion would have to be approved by Florida voters. No Casinos is the group that worked to get Amendment 3 passed in 2018.

An estimated 20 or more lawmakers are also dead-set against expanding gaming in Florida, says House Minority Co-Leader Evan Jenne.

Find the list of consensus amendments below:

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at r[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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