Place your bets! Travis Hutson files nine Senate gaming bills for Special Session

Man gambling at the craps table
All-night card rooms and slot machines and legal fantasy sports betting could become a reality.

Sen. Travis Hutson is betting big. The St. Augustine Republican, chosen to carry gaming bills this year, filed nine bills ahead of Monday’s Special Session on gambling.

The nine measures would implement the Gaming Compact Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month with the Seminole Tribe and related gambling proposals. That compact is expected to rake in at least $2.5 billion for the state within five years, with the Tribe serving as a hub for sports betting and getting benefits such as adding three facilities to its Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

In a memo to Senators, Senate President Wilton Simpson said Hutson’s bills would help Florida law better reflect the current gaming climate.

“In total, the proposed gaming legislation seeks to balance the requirements of federal Indian gaming law, the complex pari-mutuel regulatory structure established over decades, and the need to better enforce restrictions against illegal gaming, all while adhering to the new constitutional restrictions on casino-style gaming,” he wrote.

The first bill (SB 2A) would ratify and implement the Gaming Compact. Current law allows the Tribe to offer slots, banked card games, raffles and drawings. The Compact would expand that authorization to craps, roulette, fantasy sports contests and sports betting.

The second bill (SB 4A) would establish the Florida Gaming Control Commission, a law enforcement agency within the Attorney General Office’s Department of Legal Affairs. With the Senate’s approval, the Governor would appoint the panel’s five commissioners from a range of backgrounds to four-year terms. However, commissioners cannot serve for more than 12 years.

A related measure (SB 6A) would create the public records framework to protect information obtained during the commission’s investigations. That bill would sunset in October 2026.

Another bill (SB 8A) would change the regulation of pari-mutuel operations, including betting on horse and greyhound racing.

Lobbyists representing pari-mutuels presented a “consensus” package of amendments to language lawmakers were going to consider during this year’s Regular Session, but that lawmakers saved for the Special Session.

The pari-mutuels’ proposed amendments would apply to several of those bills. However, they do not appear to be considered in full in the latest version from Hutson.

One key surviving suggestion would allow card room and slot machines to operate 24/7. Currently, they are limited to 18 hours during the week but can operate 24 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Another of the pari-mutuels’ proposals that appear in Hutson’s legislation would allow casinos to serve complimentary drinks around slot machines.

Two bills (SB 16A & SB 18A) would legalize one of the more popular and lucrative gaming options, fantasy sports betting. The laws on fantasy sports betting have been fuzzy, so companies like DraftKings and FanDuel have been operating at some level in Florida for years, even though they have no overt authority. The compact and filed legislation would pave the way for those businesses to collaborate with the Seminole Tribe.

Three proposals (SB 10A, SB 12A & SB 14A) would change bingo game regulations to “provide additional entertainment choices” and promote tourism.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to take up the series of bills Monday at 2 p.m. with the issue going to the Senate floor the next day, according to a schedule released by the Senate. While only half the state’s 40 Senators sit on the Appropriations Committee, in his memo, Simpson encouraged them all to attend Monday’s meeting.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced Friday that he has created a Select Committee on Gaming, which will be chaired by Brevard County Rep. Randy Fine and a Select Subcommittee on the Seminole Gaming Compact, a Select Subcommittee on Authorized Gaming Activity and a Select Subcommittee on Gaming Regulation.

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

With gambling a thorny legal and political issue, legislative proposals to make major changes in the industry have repeatedly died in recent years. But the issue broke through this spring when DeSantis and the tribe agreed on the compact.

But even if lawmakers sign off on the compact, it still would need approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Also, the compact likely would face a legal challenge because of a 2018 state constitutional amendment designed to require voter approval of gambling expansions.

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


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

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 [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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