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15 posts from April 2, 2013

April 02, 2013

Internet cafes' loss may be parimutuels' gain: legislators to ponder moving games

As the Florida Senate appears ready to outlaw the electronic slot machine-like games offered by Internet cafes, adult arcades and maquinita operators in Florida, there is talk that the machines will be resurrected next year.

Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Tuesday that he would like to consider allowing the machines to be operated at the dog tracks, horse traces and jai alai frontons throughout the state, which are currently regulated and paying taxes.

“As long as they’re regulated in the pari-mutuel facilities that’s something for us to talk about. I’ve always said if we are going to allow any expansion of gaming – which I’m not really for – the existing authorized, legitimate are where we should do it,” he said. 

Las Vegas-style slot machines are currently only allowed in the six parimutuel faciliites Miami Dade and Broward but in 2011 Thrasher proposed an amendment to a bill in the final hours of the legislative session that would have allowed the Jacksonsville greyhound track in his district to operate a copycat version, known as video lottery terminals, that allow players to play against each other, not the house. The amendment nearly derailed the end of session, but it didn't pass.

Now, Thrasher says, when the Florida Legislature returns next year to take a comprehensive look at the state's gambling laws, the issue should return. The House and Senate have set up select committees to study gaming regulation and come up with a proposal next year. The Senate committee is chaired by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and the House's is chaired by Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill.

“I suspect that when Sen. Richter does his deal next year that some of the pari-mutuels will come in and say ‘let us do it’ because we’re paying taxes – a high rate of taxes,'' he said.



Dolphins bill gets Senate makeover, ties in other sports teams

The Miami Dolphins’ push to get taxpayers to pitch in millions of dollars for a stadium renovation has taken on a new form, with a major amendment in the Florida Senate.

The amendment, filed Tuesday morning by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would basically force sports teams to compete for the kind of multimillion-dollar tax breaks the state has been awarding for years.

As a number of teams have asked lawmakers for new tax breaks this year, the new Dolphins bill would make them compete for the money by proving they would create jobs and economic development in the state. The amendment, in effect, lumps in the Dolphins’ proposal (SB 306) with those of other teams seeking tax breaks.

The Department of Economic Opportunity would have a pot of about $15 million per year, and sports teams would compete for up to $3 million in annual tax breaks. Teams would be ranked based on how much of an economic benefit they could bring to the state, including the impact of major events like Super Bowls and other championship games.

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Opponents: Bill would turn high-school athletes into free agents

When the Florida High School Athletic Association disqualified the top-ranked Krop High School boys’ basketball team from the state playoffs in 2011, it had uncovered that several players, including a Bahamian-born guard, were ineligible to play for the northeast Miami-Dade high school team.

The scandal led to the ouster of legendary coach Shakey Rodriguez, the demotion of the school’s principal, a three-year probation for the basketball program and fines that topped $20,000.

This year, a state lawmaker wants to scale back the FHSAA’s power by easing some of the restrictions on transferring schools and weakening the association’s ability to conduct investigations. Roger Dearing, the FHSAA’s executive director, argues that the legislation would turn local high schools into pro sports franchises by unleashing “recruiting-frenzied sports giants” as top schools bid for top athletes.

Not so, says state Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, in support of her bill. It would “help combat [the FHSAA’s] predisposition to consider students as guilty until proven innocent, and would establish true due process and rights for student athletes, which the current system of conducting investigations clearly lacks,” she says.

Read more here. 

Super Bowl tab estimated at $21 million

South Florida must raise about $21 million to put on the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, an organizer said Monday, meaning the cost of hosting the milestone game could be twice as much as it did the last time the NFL championship came to Miami Gardens.

Organizers said the NFL has upped its requirements for host cities, and plans submitted last week include an expensive cluster of pre-game activities in downtown Miami, including barges anchored on the waterfront to create more space for the events. Nicki Grossman, Broward’s tourism director and a member of the organizing committee, said the group expects the overall tab to hit about $21 million, which is less than the $25 million cited by rival San Francisco as its fundraising goal for the 2016 game.

While local governments are asked to contribute cash to the Super Bowl, the bulk of the money would come from corporate sponsors in South Florida. In 2010, South Florida’s host committee raised about $9 million to run Super Bowl XLIV, according to tax records, but the actual price tag was closer to $12 million, said Mike Zimmer, the group’s director.

Zimmer and Rodney Barreto, the committee’s volunteer chair, both declined to comment on the $21 million cost figure or offer any financial details about the preliminary bid, which was due Monday and submitted to the NFL late last week. The NFL requirements for hosting the game remain secret, as does the bid presentation sent to the league. Barreto has declined to release both documents, and officials in both Broward and Miami-Dade said they do not have copies.

“It’s going to be the best they’ve ever seen,” Barreto said of South Florida’s Super Bowl pitch to NFL owners.

More from Douglas Hanks here.

Senate committee unanimously approves Internet cafe ban, closing loopholes

Despite aggressive pleas from senior citizens and veterans groups, the Florida Senate moved closer to outlawing all slot machine-like games at Internet cafes, Miami's machinitas and South Florida's adult arcades that had expanded into a multi-million dollar industry in the face of legislative inaction.

"I think we let it get out of hand and I think we’re bringing it back now to what the original intent was,'' said Sen. John Thrasher, the sponsor of the SB 1030, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. He said it will be placed on the Senate calendar for a floor vote on Thursday and he will move to take up the House bill that passed lawt week and send it to the governor.

The measure is a swift response to a federal and state corruption probe that has led to the arrest of 57 people associated with Allied Veterans of Florida, the chain of gaming centers that purported to operate a charity but which police say was a gambling and money laundering scam.

The indictments led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had once worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans, and has resulted in Florida lawmakers, who had been warned by law enforcement for years about the illegal machines, the act quickly to shut down the industry.

"What this is really about is gambling,'' said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "Unfortunately, we have let things slip through the cracks and let things go on for too long.''

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