The Florida House and Senate Agree to a Decoupling and Designated Player Games
The Florida House of Representatives made several concessions this week which would allow a deal to be made between the state and the Seminole Tribe. The House appears to have changed course after the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling which allows an anti-casino voter initiative on the 2018 mid-term election ballot.
The announcement came after Florida State Senator Bill Galvano and State Representative Felix Diaz co-hosted a gambling conference over the weekend. Galvano and Diaz postponed the gathering until after the Supreme Court decision was announced, so the summit could respond appropriately to the decision.
Felix Diaz on House’s Offer
Diaz alluded to the Supreme Court decision when he spoke about the compromise. An anti-gambling referendum could undercut both sides of the debate, so it makes sense for the House and Senate to come to terms of a deal that might forestall the need for a referendum.
Rep. Felix Diaz said, “We know that time is running out, so we wanted to make a substantial offer to the Senate.”
Sen. Bill Galvano praised Diaz and the House members for the concessions they made. The two sides have been unable to agree on terms for months now. The new deal suggests both sides are becoming more pragmatic in the 11th Hour.
Sen. Galvano said, “[The proposal] was a substantial offer that tells me that you came in here ready to get the ball moving down the field.”
New Casino in Miami-Dade County
Under terms of the House’s plan, a new brick-and-mortar casinos would be authorized for Miami-Dade County. All live dog racing in the state would be decoupled from slot machine gambling. Also, at least one horse racing track would be decoupled from slot machines. That move would allow racetracks to stay open as slots palaces, without offering most or even any of its race schedule.
That decision could prove controversial. When slot machines were installed in racing complexes, the reason stated for the installation of gaming machines was to make the horse and dog racing industries more viable. Keeping the racetracks open would help save the equestrian and dog breeding industries of Florida, thus saving jobs. Under the decoupling policy, the equestrian and dog breeding industries would wither away, while the slot machine industry would remain.
Calder Casino Decoupled from Horse Racing
Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens is the horse track which would be exempted from the need to offer a horse racing schedule. Calder Casino would receive that concessions, because it would be most affected by the inclusion of a new casino in Miami-Dade County. All dog tracks would receive the same exemption, because they are seen as less viable than the horse tracks.
In return for making concessions to the racetrack-casinos, the Seminole Tribe of Florida would be given the ride to offer roulette and craps at their casinos. The deal would allow all seven Seminoles casinos to offer craps and roulette, two of the most popular traditional table games. It would be a significant concession to the Seminoles.
Designated Player Games Covered in Florida Gaming Bill
The Seminoles would lose their monopoly on banked games, but under limited and specific terms and conditions. “Designated player” card games would be allowed at the various racetrack casinos in 8 counties, but only in a limited fashion. The stipulation that specific rules and regulations would be instituted solves one of the major outstanding issues in recent years.
The Seminole Tribe claimed they had a monopoly on banked games, but the racetracks were violating the terms of the 2010 compact between the tribe and the state. By offering “designated player” card games, the racetracks were skirting laws by allowing players to act as the banker in games. The Seminoles argued that most stated saw those games as “banked”, while the state argued that was not the case. The stipulation to institute specific rules and regulations means the dispute would be ended.
Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reported that the slot machines found in Florida bars would be considered Class III slots. Also, establishments which limited the number of slot machines they had on the premises would receive a lower tax rate. That would be a measure against the proliferation of slots.
Slots in Eight Florida Counties
Every issue has not been resolved. Eight counties have approved slot machines at their pari-mutuel betting venues, including jai alai frontons. The future of such pari-mutuel gambling establishment slot machines is not settled. It would need to be settled to avoid more lawsuits.
The House and Senate appear close to agreeing to request that the Seminoles grant a 2-year window to resolve any compact violations. It is unknown whether the Seminole Tribe of Florida would approve such a request, though the motivation to get a deal done quickly likely would be compelling to the tribe.
John Sowinski on “Gambling Creep”
John Sowinski, an anti-gambling activist associated with “Voters in Charge, No Casinos”, showed that the way forward would be fraught with peril, if those making the new laws allowed the issues to become a prolonged public debate. Sowinski’s group recently released a report that showed 84% of Floridians oppose the expansion of gambling in the state. The report also suggested that 60% of Florida voters would be more likely to vote against a candidate, if they supported gambling expansion.
Mr. Sowinski said in a press release, “This conference committee process is a prime example why gambling expansion should not be subject to legislative ‘sausage making’ as it results in gambling creep. It is clear that there needs to be a bright line in the Florida Constitution that gives Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize gambling in our state.“
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