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Gambling Issue Continues to Hover in Legislature

January 17, 2013 - 6:00pm

If there is any indication that the gambling barbarians remain at the gates of Florida, one has to look no further than the Senate Gaming Committee meeting on Monday.

When Malaysian casino giant Genting and others were watching the doomed destination-gaming bill they backed go before committees, well-tailored lobbying suits created standing room only crowds during meetings in both the House and Senate.

With the Senate Gaming Committee embarking on what Chairman Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said could be a comprehensive two-year look at gaming in Florida, the scene in the Senate Buildings first-floor committee room was once again standing-room-only with proponents and opponents of any gambling expansion.

First up, Richter wants a House- and Senate-backed study that looks into the economic impact on the state and each other of the Florida Seminole Tribe compact, the Florida lottery, the 30 pari-mutuel locations that include horse racing, harness racing, quarter horse racing, greyhound racing, jai alai, poker and slot machines. Poker is available at 25 locations, while slot machines are available in seven locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

I think it will be important to listen to all the different perceptions, Richter said. Thats one of the reasons that really draws attention to getting the third-party independent (request for proposal) out there. That will give this committee a better independent look without the passion.

One of the decisions for the committee in the next year or two will be the complex compact with the Seminole Tribe that gives the tribe exclusive rights to set Las Vegas-style table games.

The compact, approved in 2010, expires July 31, 2015. The state is due $233 million this year and in 2014 as a guaranteed minimum payment.

The guaranteed minimums go down or away if the Legislature approves new casino games in Broward or Miami-Dade counties, or if the state authorizes Internet gaming and the net revenue for the Seminoles declines by 5 percent or more.

On Wednesday, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, when releasing the business advocate group's 2013 legislative agenda,once again reiterated its long-stated opposition to the expansion of mega-casino-style resorts, claiming the facilities would mostly take away customers from existing businesses rather than become a new economic draw.

We must: Continue to monitor and oppose expansion efforts brought before the Legislature; Combat any attempts to alter the Florida Constitution to expand gaming through the amendment process, the Chamber's 2013 agenda states.

A year ago, a gaming commission proposal along the lines of three mega-casinos in South Florida duly died in the House.

Richter, who claims to have had no opinion on the destination-gaming bill, noted that most states that have expanded their gambling opportunities have created a gaming commission.

One of the reasons I was tabbed to chair this is that I dont arrive in this committee or this seat with preconvictions, he said. Im really starting from step one.

The committee is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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