Odds Grow Against Casino Bill Even as it Succeeds in Committee
Around the State
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted 7-3 on Monday in support of the Destination Gaming bill.
In voting against the bill, SB 710, Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, said the bill reaches “too far” and “too fast” in expanding gaming in Florida. Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, added that the bill doesn’t fit with the image many have of Florida.
“This doesn’t fit into our scheme of what we want to be and what we want to represent as a family friend destination,” Altman said.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, called the bill too vague for an unelected gaming commission to interpret and would create an expansion of gaming across the state.
Thrasher’s objection, which wasn’t unexpected, places a potential barrier for the bill reaching the Senate floor.
He added after the meeting that he currently has no plan -- unless Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, asks -- to put the bill before his Rules Committee.
The bill must go before the Rules Committee if it clears its next stop before the Senate Budget Committee.
“We haven’t had the first indication from the House if they have any interest in this bill yet,” Thrasher said. “So I have a feeling this bill will slow down dramatically until we see some movement, if any, from the House.”
Thrasher added that he hasn’t made any promises to move the bill forward in the Rules Committee.
“I assume have the same discretion as other committee member have,” said Thrasher, who added that he was “benevolent” in moving members’ bills when House speaker.
Haridopolos has said he would like a quick up or down floor vote on the bill.
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, remains hopeful the bill, which she will continue to tweak to please senators, will reach the Senate floor.
“I don’t know that the (president) would let us put this much time and energy into and not at least have its opportunity,” she said after the meeting.
During the meeting, Bogdanoff noted she has worked to satisfy the committee members without watering down the goal to establish an appointed board that controls the growth of gambling in the state.
“We have barrel racing because we have a department that gave out a permit,” “With a gaming commission it’s going to be much more transparent.”
She also said the state is more diverse than the oft-repeated phrase that Florida is a family-friendly state.
While the state has family friendly attractions, it is third in the nation in revenue generated by gaming, from the pari-mutuels, to the Seminole Indian compact to the Florida Lottery, and fourth in the nation in tribal gaming.
“People do not go to South Beach to see Mickey Mouse, they just don’t, they go there for different reasons,” she said. “We have the strip club capital of the world in Tampa. I hate to say it out loud, but we do. We have not ruined our family friendly image.”
“We can handle it.”
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the bill brings the possibility of creating up to three casinos that require $2 billion in construction and amenities.
“Here is the possibility of creating jobs,” he said. “It isn’t every day in this economy that you have companies coming forward willing to invest billions of dollars into our economy willing to create an additional destination for tourists.”
Democrats, who in the House haven’t shied away from the fact that the bill’s sponsors will need their help to succeed, gave the bill the support it needed to survive the Regulated Industries Committee.
Senator Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray, noted that the state has had gambling since 1931 and now has 18 dog tracks, seven jai alai frontons, five thoroughbred tracks, one harness track, one quarter horse track, a new barrel racing track, numerous tribal casinos and pari-mutuel facilities, 17 gambling cruise ships that leave from the state’s major ports, and 800 to 1,400 Internet cafes.
“We are going in the direction of really unregulated gambling, gaming, betting, and I think this discuss is very good,” Sachs said.
Senate Minority leader Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, added she has issues with some aspects of the bill, such as regulating Internet cafes and the potential change to South Florida. But she supported recent changes to the proposal that would require county voters to approve any destination gaming facility.
“I think it’s important for the people to determine
The committee approved a number of changes that Bogdanoff made based upon comments from senators at two prior hearings held by the committee.
Among the changes:
• Would give existing pari-mutuel facilities until July 2015, to hold a referendum of county voters in order to expand to include slot machine or limited gaming on site. The committee bumped the date from Dec. 2014.
• Locations approved for limited gaming would be required to pay $125 million licensing fees.
• Would regulate, instead of closing, existing Internet cafes.
• Prohibits game promotions from advertising the establishment as a gambling house.
• Prohibits any new pari-mutuel permit from being issued after July 1.
• Expands rule-making authority of the commission to include table game operations, employee training and count room security.
• Requires each resort to segregate the casino from the guest entrance.
• Clarifies that the required minimum $2 billion invested in the construction of the resort may include gaming equipment and furnishings, but excludes impact fees and property costs.
• Requires the commission to consider the impact on surrounding amenities, restaurants and attractions, when considering a resort license.
• Increases the annual license fee from $2 million to $5 million for resort licenses.
• Designates 97.5 percent of all tax revenue to the state’s General Revenue Fund.
• Designates 2 percent of all tax revenue to the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association.
• Designates 0.5 percent of all tax revenue to the Veterans Trust Fund.
• Requires manufacturers of gaming equipment to obtain a license from the commission.
• Designates 0.25 percent of gross revenues from resort licensees, limited gaming licensees and slot racino licensees go to the treatment of compulsive or addictive gambling. Amount earlier was set at $250,000 per licensee.
• Increases the alcohol license fee from $50,000 to $250,000 for destination resorts.
• Requires construction to begin within 12 months
The committee continued to hear from supporters and opponents before voting.
Proponents repeated the line that the mega casinos will provide much needed construction and permanent jobs, creating thousands of jobs.
Opponents question the projected economic and employment projections made by gaming proponents, saying the casinos would only suck business from existing restaurants, resorts and attractions.
On Tuesday, a coalition of business groups headed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and including the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Florida Retail Federation, will hold a media conference to re-affirm its opposition to the gaming bill.
On Monday, another group of businesses -- Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Transportation Builders Association, Construction Association of South Florida, Builders Association of South Florida, Florida United Business Association, Florida Concrete & Product Association, Florida Retired Workers Association and the Latin Builders Association – sent a letter to legislators to again state their support for the bill.
How they voted
Chairman Dennis Jones, R-Seminole
Vice Chair Sachs, D-Delray
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami
Sen. Nan H. Rich, D-Sunrise
Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne
Sen. Charles S. "Charlie" Dean, Sr., R-Inverness
Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or (772) 215-9889.