Pari-mutuels submit 23-page special session wish list to Florida lawmakers

Anti-gambling activists are vowing to sue, at least 20 lawmakers have already expressed opposition and now a pari-mutuel/gaming coalition has submitted 23 pages of changes they’d like to see.

Odds are, the Florida Legislature’s May 17-19 gaming special session is going to be special, indeed.

Lawmakers must endorse the 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida tentatively signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 23 during the special session but will also be debating three gaming-related bills, including a controversial proposal to “decouple” the live racing requirement at some pari-mutuels.

All three bills originated in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, chaired by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. They are:

  • Senate Bill 7076 would create a five-member Florida Gaming Control Commission within the state Attorney General Office which would have law enforcement authority over gaming laws.
  • SB 7078 would grant the Gaming Control Commission’s criminal investigations a public records exemption.
  • SB 7080 would allow casinos to operate card games without running harness or quarter-horse races or jai-alai.

Right now, Florida law requires live racing or competition for pari-mutuel wagering to take place. Under SB 7080, “decoupling” would be allowed, meaning means race tracks could still allow gaming like slot machines without live racing. The bill originally “decoupled” thoroughbred horse racing as well but that was later restored.

An ad hoc coalition of Florida pari-mutuel interests and others in the state gaming industry not named the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Friday offered lawmakers 42 “consensus amendments” to digest before the session begins in 10 days.

Among proposed amendments: eliminate the Seminole’s right to initiate investigations by the commission; prohibit appointment to the commission of anyone who received any financial benefit from tribal gaming or affiliated with a gaming operation owned by an Indian tribe.

The group wants the commission to have the authority to inspect tribal gaming facilities, require the performance of tribal gaming facilities be included in its annual report and limit the commission’s ability to restrict gaming that is already occurring.

Under the consensus amendments, slot machines and card rooms now limited to 18 hours a day during the week could operate 24/7.

Complimentary alcoholic beverages and ATMs would also be available at slot machines, if operators had their way. They also want slot machine license holders to have their licenses extended if hurricanes or other crises beyond their control shutter their businesses.

Other proposals include preventing the commission from changing gaming rules in a way that reduces state tax revenues and from granting new permits, although relocations would be allowed.

After two years of negotiations, DeSantis on April 23 signed a 75-page deal that stipulates the Seminole Tribe pay the state at least $2.5 billion over the pact’s first five years.

Under the pact, the tribe would also be granted exclusive control of blackjack and craps and at its seven casinos, as well as sports betting – a $2 billion market in Florida by 2025, according to 2019 projections by Morgan Stanley – on its properties as well as at non-tribal pari-mutuels and via its new Hard Rock Digital platform.

By allowing the Seminoles to control sports betting, the deal would not violate 2018’s Amendment 3, according to DeSantis, legislative leaders and the tribe.

As a sovereign tribal nation, the Seminole’s gaming operations are governed under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), allowing them to circumvent Amendment 3’s mandate that any gaming expansion be approved by state voters.

No dice, says No Casinos, which has stymied high-stakes casino gambling in Florida since 1978, vowing to challenge the pact in court.

This article was originally posted on Pari-mutuels submit 23-page special session wish list to Florida lawmakers

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