The Senate approved a measure Tuesday that would allow racetracks and other gaming sites to host some other forms of gambling despite pushback from the House.
The bill (SB 8A) enacting gaming regulations was the only measure to pass the Senate unanimously during the one-week Special Session dedicated to gaming. However, the measure, carried in the Senate by Sen. Travis Hutson, is pitting parts of the horse industry against other parts.
Under the proposal, gaming facilities with pari-mutuel permits could operate even if they don’t host the contests typically associated with those facilities. That would allow card rooms and, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, slot machines to continue at casinos run at jai alai frontons, former greyhound racing tracks closed down last year, and Florida’s last remaining harness racing track to be decoupled from those pari-mutuel gambling operations.
That would not be so for thoroughbred racing, which proponents of the bill contend is still too big and too important an industry in Florida to risk losing.
Before the Senate moved forward with the plan, lawmakers had indicated an interest in also nixing the proposed decoupling of harness racing from casino operations. The House Select Committee on Gaming removed that decoupling provision from its version of the bill (HB 7A), setting up a fight on Wednesday, when lawmakers hope to adjourn the Special Session.
The House version effectively requires continued racing at the state’s only harness racing track, Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park in Broward County. House members pointed to the economic impact of the Standardbred horse industry, the type of horses used in harness racing. They said the industry involves thousands of people in the state.
One amendment the Senate did approve, however, would allow a city to prohibit new pari-mutuel facilities within their borders.
Another would cancel a proposal to allow complimentary or discounted drinks at slot machines in those facilities. It wouldn’t apply to pari-mutuel card rooms or Seminole-run sites.
“Some of those slot machines are very sophisticated and could probably target individuals in terms of what they think they’re winning versus what the actual outcome is,” Hutson said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.