Sen. Maria Sachs Wants to Create a Florida Department of Gaming
State Senator Maria Sachs, a Democrat from Delray Beach has filed legislation which would create a Florida Department of Gaming. At the moment, three departments oversee gambling operations in the state, but Sen. Sachs believes the job would be done better by a single agency.
When asked about the timing of her proposal, Maria Sachs said the recent announcement of a 20-year gaming compact with the Seminole tribe had convinced her the state needed a gaming commission. The compact made the state’s gaming industry more complicated than it has been in the past. Before, the Seminole casinos had a virtual monopoly on land-based gambling in the state, besides the state lottery. Now, racetracks are given certain rights, while provisions exist which might allow resort-casinos in South Florida, under certain circumstances.
Sachs’ Reasons for Her Proposal
Having one department to oversee the entire market only seems to make sense, says the senator, who entered state-level politics in 2006. Currently, the Department of Lottery oversees lotto sales in the state. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation regulates tribal gaming, pari-mutuel wagers, slots gaming at racinos, and card rooms.
Even the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services get in on the action, regulating and registering “game promotions”. Game promotions are defined as sweepstakes, raffles, contests, games of chance, or other “gift enterprises” which award a prize over $5,000. Game promotions are usually organized by non-profit charitable groups like police and fire departments, church organizations, or civic groups for the sake of charity fundraising.
If Maria Sachs has her way, all forms of gambling would be combined under a Department of Gaming. Though it sounds like it makes sense, the idea has not been popular. Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says the legislature has seen similar bills discussed in the past 4 years, but they did not receive support at any time.
Steve Crisafulli’s Opinion
Despite that, Steve Crisafulli gives the proposal his support. With the Seminole tribe’s new compact, Crisafulli said, “it was time for the state to have such an oversight committee“.
Under terms of the deal brokered between the Seminoles and Governor Rick Scott, the tribe receives exclusive rights to offer blackjack in the state. The Seminoles have the right to offer other “banked games”, meaning games in which the gambler is betting against the house or the casino is putting up its own money. A banked game is contrasted against poker, in which the players gamble against one another and the house simply takes a rake from each hand.
Prior to the deal being signed, there was confusion over some of the table games offered at racetrack casinos in the state. The racinos offered electronic versions of table games in which gamblers acted as the banker. The racinos claimed the games were not banked games, while the Seminoles insisted electronic card games infringed upon their rights. At one point, the Seminoles gave a 30-day notification they would stop paying gaming taxes, as the previous deal signed in 2010 gave them the right to do, if the state allowed other operators to host banked games. It appeared the two sides would go to court over the definition of banked games.
20-Year Deal with $3 Billion Guaranteed
Instead, they hammered out a 20-year deal which gave Florida a guaranteed $3 billion in the first 7 years of the compact. That is why so many media outlets refer to the compact as a “$3 billion deal”, though the ultimate value of the deal is likely to be 3 times that amount — or even more.
Concessions were made to the racetracks, though. The racinos can have up to 750 slot machines and 750 instant racing machines on their grounds. Two more racetracks were allowed to open slots rows on their grounds, including the Palm Beach Kennel Club and a future racing venue in the Miami-Dade County area. Tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade might be able to allow blackjack in the future, under certain restrictions.
Provisions also allow the state to give back some of the tax revenues to a racetrack to buy back gaming permits, meaning a struggling racing operator would be given a golden parachute for closing down their operations. This is to the advantage of the Seminoles, since it would eliminate an additional competitor.
Seminoles Now Have 7 Blackjack Casinos
The Native American tribal authority also made concessions to the state. Though the number of Seminole casinos which could offer blackjack was increased to 7, the tribe agreed not to expand their gaming interests to a new venue within the next 20-year window. Also, the Seminoles agreed to stand aside if the Florida legislature ever decided to legalize online gambling in Florida. That is a farsighted stipulation negotiated by the Florida government, given the roadblocks put up by tribal casinos in California, which continue to keep Internet gambling illegal in the state two years after the legislature began proposing legalization. Also, the state lottery can sell tickets at gas pumps, a form of gaming which was not allowed by the tribe before.
The deal is a good one for both sides, but it adds additional layers of complexity to the gaming industry of Florida. The proposal by Senator Maria Sachs makes sense. Given the poor reception other bills have received in the past few years, Sachs’ proposals are still a long shot to pass. Whether perceptions have changed due to the new gaming compact is left to be seen.
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