A House subcommittee OK’d two bills on Monday, one that would create a state commission to enforce gaming laws and another that would provide the commission a public record exemption.
The primary bill (HB 3A) would establish the Florida Gaming Control Commission and crown it Florida’s lead law enforcement agency on gambling.
Currently, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) oversees pari-mutuel gambling in Florida such as cardrooms and horse racing.
Proponents of the bill, however, contend the department is struggling to manage gaming within the state.
Republican Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples, for example, said gaming in Florida has “outgrown” DBPR’s limited capabilities.
“We need a tighter grip on it,” said Rommel, the bill’s sponsor. “As it grows, we want to make sure that our citizens, when they go to any gaming facility, that they know it’s going to be the same rules, same regulations, same law enforcement everywhere.”
Rommel’s proposal would create a criminal justice agency, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, under the new commission.
While DBPR posses no law enforcement authority and refers all allegations to local law enforcement, the new agency would specialize in gaming violations and unauthorized gambling.
Chairman Chuck Brannan said the new commission may help the state enforce gaming violations more equally.
In his district, he noted, some counties allow internet cafes, while others do not.
“Everybody has a different view and a different opinion,” Brannan said of local sheriffs and police chiefs. “This will give some uniformity.”
Throughout the meeting, lawmakers frequently looked to staff or Republican Rep. Randy Fine to clarify details.
Fine, a former casino executive, explained the new commission would have no authority over the Seminole Tribe.
“You have to think of the Seminole Nation literally as Mexico or Canada or the Bahamas,” Fine, who sat in on the meeting, told members.
“They are a sovereign nation and in federal Indian Gaming law, they regulate themselves. It’s not a policy option available to us to regulate them.”
The House Select Subcommittee on Gaming Regulation advanced the bill with a 9-4 vote.
The subcommittee also approved a bill (HB 5A) that would provide the commission a public record exemption.
Under that measure, Rommel explained, criminal investigations into casinos and other gambling venues would be kept private until a charge is levied.
Republican Rep. Mike Beltran of Lithia contended the two bills need to stay hand-in-hand. Without the exemption, he warned, the reputation of innocent people would be at risk.
The subcommittee advanced the bill unanimously. Should it reach the House floor, it will require a two-thirds vote for final passage as mandated by the Florida Constitution for all public record exemptions.
The votes come as the Legislature explores a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.
The Compact, a 75-page document, will determine the longterm future of gaming in Florida.
Under the deal struck by the Governor and the Tribe, the Tribe would pay at least $2.5 billion in the first five years of a 30-year agreement, which could net the state “in excess of $20 billion” over the next three decades, Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told lawmakers Monday.
Lawmakers are expected to conclude the Special Session as early as Wednesday.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.