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Senate plans four public hearings this fall on gaming's future in Florida

Garrett RichterThe Florida Senate will host a series of four public hearings this fall to seek public input on the future of gaming in the state, pivoting off the completion of a new report on the economic impact of the industry in Florida, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

The hearings are tentatively scheduled to be held in Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland in late October and in Jacksonville and Pensacola in mid-November. The Spectrum Gaming Group is expected to complete a report on the statistical relationships between gaming and the economic impact on communities in October. The Senate and House paid the company $388,000 to conduct an economic analysis of the industry. Part One of the report was released last month. 

The goal of the public hearings will be to gather community feedback on gambling in Florida, Richter said, noting that he was not prepared to suggest the Legislature will be discussiong expanding gambling.

Florida legislators last year passed a fast-tracked bill to outlaw gaming at Internet Cafes, but then punted any discussion of Florida's gambling laws by hiring Spectrum to complete its study.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have said they are prepared to take up legislation relating to the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, because a portion of the 20-year agreement expires in 2015. But there is no guarantee that the push by companies such as Las Vegas Sands and Genting to bring destination resort casinos to Florida will get a hearing.

"The Spectrum report should provide for a lot of discussion,'' Richter said. He does expect legislation to clarify and tighten existing gambling laws.

A series of rulings from the Division of Parimutuel Wagering have spawned dozens of lawsuits as regulators have allowed "flag-drop" races to be considered a parimutuel sport, permitted slot operators to run electronic roulette and craps games in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowed a dormant jai alai permit to be used to expand the number of slot machines at Magic City Casino, and allowed Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream racetrack in Hallandale Beach to run a one-time race in June so they could offer thoroughbred races via simulcast year-round.

"Staff is going through the existing statutes line-by-line to determine whether we want to eliminate the ambiguities,'' Richter said.