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Gambling Bills Likely to Spark High-Stakes Debate

February 4, 2016 - 11:15pm

House and Senate leaders will roll out gambling bills Friday that would allow the Seminole Tribe to add craps and roulette at its casinos, potentially do away with dog racing and most horse racing and open the door for slot machines in Palm Beach County

Late Thursday, Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley and his House counterpart, Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, were working on details in the two proposals, slated for votes next week in both committees.

"We're still working on the language. We're going to be here all night. This is a gargantuan bill," Diaz, R-Miami, told reporters.

Both chambers' plans include legislation that would authorize an agreement inked by Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole tribal chief James Billie last month. That deal, called a "compact," would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at each of the tribe's seven Florida casinos, on top of banked card games --- such as blackjack --- already in play at most of the Seminoles' facilities.In exchange, the Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $3 billion over seven years --- triple a $1 billion, five-year deal that expired last summer --- in what is believed to be the largest tribal revenue-sharing agreement in the country.

Separate bills will address pari-mutuel-industry issues that are permitted, but not specifically authorized, by the proposed compact, according to Bradley and Diaz.

To make the bills more palatable to gambling-leery lawmakers, the measures would do away with dormant pari-mutuel permits and eliminate some active permits.

But one of the most controversial items would allow horse tracks to do away with racing all types of horses except thoroughbreds, a process known as "decoupling," while keeping more lucrative card rooms and, for some, slot machines. A portion of the revenues from the compact would go to supplement purses for thoroughbred horse races, now running at Gulfstream Racetrack and Tampa Bay Downs.

Greyhound tracks would also be allowed to decouple, an idea that has been supported by many lawmakers but has faced opposition from greyhound breeders, owners and kennel operators. Horse breeders, owners and trainers also have strenuously objected to decoupling.

Decoupling horses "would essentially make welfare queens out of horsemen by creating an artificial set-aside market" and "wipes out any semblance of free enterprise," the United Florida Horsemen, representing owners, breeders and trainers, said in a statement.  

Jai alai operators would have to keep their games under both proposals.

The measures would also allow slot machines in Palm Beach County and at a new facility in Miami-Dade County. Permits for the slots would be attained through a procurement process and would require operators to give up active permits to be eligible for the new games.

The Senate proposal --- which Bradley called "an aggressive plan to reduce gaming" in Florida --- would also allow Scott to "buy back" active permits, using money from the revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe. The House is not expected to include that provision in its initial roll-out, Diaz said.

The House will also offer a third measure, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval for any expansion of gambling after the compact and accompanying pari-mutuel changes are approved, Diaz said. The Senate is not yet proposing a similar measure.

The pari-mutuel-related bills would also reduce the tax rate on slot machines paid by Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels, known as "racinos." The proposed compact would allow a 10 percent drop from the current 35 percent tax rate.

Diaz said his proposal will include a 5 percent tax reduction, and up to another 5 percent for pari-mutuels that agree to reduce the number of slot machines at their facilities. The South Florida operators each are allowed to have up to 2,000 slot machines, but all have fewer than that number, and some only have about 1,000, Diaz said.

Blackjack is off the table for the racinos, Diaz said, although the proposed compact would permit the games --- limited to 15 tables, and capped at maximum bets of $15 --- for the Miami-Dade and Broward facilities.

The Palm Beach Kennel Club, which for years has pushed for slots, would be able to add 750 slot machines and 750 "video racing" terminals, if it wins the bid for the permit.

Who gets slots has also been a point of contention for lawmakers. Voters in six counties --- including Palm Beach --- have approved slots for their local pari-mutuels, but gambling regulators have refused to sign off on the lucrative games. The Florida Supreme Court is now considering whether Gretna Racing, a small horse track and card room in Gadsden County, should be allowed to have slots without the Legislature's express permission. Voters in six counties --- including Gadsden and Palm Beach --- have approved slots for their local pari-mutuels.

With the 60-day legislative session nearing its midway point, Scott and the Seminoles have stepped up pressure on lawmakers to approve the compact.

Lawmakers have plenty of time, Diaz said Thursday.

"I think it's pretty early," he said, adding that the bill could be more difficult to pass as the end of the 2016 session approaches.

Diaz also said "we have the votes in my committee" to pass the measures.

"Things could change and people could change. But the members understand that this is a work in progress and they'll have another vote on it" before it reaches the floor, he said.

"Everybody's ideal scenario won't come true. There will be tough decisions for us to make as a body. I don't know if there will be anybody out there that will feel like they got everything they wanted," Diaz said. "But the bill …will be in a posture that is passable and will continue the conversation for us live to fight another day."

But Bradley --- whose committee includes senators who are opposed to any expansion of gambling as well as those who want slots in Gadsden and Lee counties --- wasn't as confident. Like Diaz, Bradley said he expects committee members to propose amendments to the legislation next week. The fate of the bills could hinge on what gets added to the measures.

"Right now, it's a jump-ball," he said.


In the state of Florida the Nationally Conglomerated Casino Gaming Interests want every dime they can extract from the citizens. This is not just about decoupling the racing community and the devastating loss of a small business economy with the associated breeding farms in our rural agricultural industry. Along with the expansion of gaming, they introduce 50 million dollars per year in tax relief reductions for their wildly profitable money grab operations thus returning to Wall Street the payments on the junk bonds that fund their worldwide operations.The hard working citizens of the state have the tax relief dollars shipped elsewhere while the net job loss in state exceeds 20,000.Hopefully the states local welfare roles can handle the new influx. Too bad the citizens can"t contribute the hundreds of millions of dollars sent to the political action and campaign war chests by the BIG Winners. In a world where money talks, the taxpayers and voters can't be represented or helped. Remember when it comes to HI~Stakes Gambling they talk about net win which mans there must be a loser. Too bad the game is rigged,

palm beach greyhound track is doing 450000 a card on there live races a million on weekend double headers state needs to cut taxes they pay and other greyhound tracks too.

how dumb is diaz its not a 10% drop in state take on slots from 35-25% its almost a 33% drop yes the state will get 1/3 less ex on 1000 state gets 350 now they will get 250, 10% drop would be 315 a 33% less take is 250.diaz and bradley too dumbos who are clueless costing the state millions and millions with a 33% loss

yes your math is dead on please have someone wake those two up bradley/diaz i so if there bill passes and two new slot location opens the state would got with the two new sites the same there getting now because the tax rate will be 33% less STUPID TO BE KIND

Its is amazing that the horse industry was the race track owners best friend when they needed them to get the constitutional amendment change allowing Slots at the race tracts now that they have gained what they wanted the hard working horsemen and woman and their families are treated as low life slaves.

You know the old saying... you don't always get what you want, you get what you wished for. Horsemen refused any and all reforms that would have made the Sport of Kings competitive with other forms of gambling, preferring to suck off the public teat (i.e. slots purse subsidies). Now that it looks like those subsidies are going to be whittled away (not just in FL but in PA, WV, IND, IA, etc) they cry boo-hoo. No sympathy...You had your chance and pissed it away. De-Coupling here we come.

get rid of the politians that is doing this to horseman and dog people vote m out of office as fast as possible.//////

the governor and lawmakers should be voted out of office,this law will kill the horse racing in this state putting thousands of people out of jobs.

It is obvious the behind the scenes workers in the racing industry don't count. Where does the casino money go after they pay everyone off. I guarantee the tribes are not getting money.

selfish people live everywhere in this country. this proposal looks to kill all the hard working trainers , drivers grooms and racetrack workers. what else should u expect from selfish casino owners and most politicians. Shame shame shame on all of you!!!!!!

Don't anyone kid themselves, this is about lawmakers greasing their pockets. It has nothing to do with protecting the hard working people in the horse racing business. In the long run EVERYONE loses, expect the money grubbing politicians. The casino's can't be happy with a portion of the gambling money, they want it all & they are willing to pay off the politicians to get it. Our representatives are elected to represent ALL the people not just the ones with money!

It's amazing how the Seminole Indians control things here in Florida. Well if your in bed with the Governor than it's easy. I and a lot of my friends will not set foot in the Hard Rock in Tampa. When guests come to visit I tell them noway will I take you there, you have no shot as the Indians have no competition and do whatever they want. What a shame.

how does this effect Pompano Harness Track.

Makes perfect sense, the dog and horse racing industry outside of Gulfstream is dead. Why should we prop up industries that are not wanted anymore.

you idiot, the casinos have stlon every customer from horse industry. i hope they all get C

Pompano park Harness racing actually is doing well they hold there own as far as there on track handle and don't receive much help from there on track casino

Gulfstreampark handled 27 million in one day a couple of years back,Florida Derby Day.In Florida the Thoroughbred Industry is second only to Tourists ...The Pari-Mutuels did a great job of keeping taxes low in Fl for many years. With online gambling you have to expect on site attendance to drop.

Horse racing is dead outside of Gulfstream? Tampa Bay Downs handled $3.9 million daily on its races last year. A lot of jobs would be lost and this proposal would cost the state long term.

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