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Legislative leaders lower expectations on a gambling bill

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz continued to lower expectations on the odds of a massive rewrite of Florida's gambling laws to get passed this year. 

"There are some issues that are forced on us by consequence, constitution, timing and gaming is an issue that is forced to the stage either this year or next year by the fact that the Seminole compact is up for some re-negotiation,'' Gaetz said, referring to the state's agreement with the Seminole Tribe that gives them a monopoly in exchange for about $250 million in annual payments to the state. One segment of the agreement is up for renewal in 2015.

"When you do that, you touch the dominoes that make everything else effective. I don't think expansion of gaming, or gaming legislation, would be a Will Weatherford or a Don Gaetz priority...It's not something we want to be involved in but it's something circumstances probably require either us or our successors to do something about."  

As the Herald/Times reported on Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott is also keeping his distance on the constroversial issues of gambling as he seeks re-election. That could change if Republicans determine that putting a constitutional amendment regarding gambling on the ballot could draw some voters to the polls that would support the governor.

Speaking to reporters at the annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee, the Republican leaders downplayed the chances of moving legislation through this election year despite spending $400,000 and conducting a series of hearings around the state. 

Both leaders said they will not vote for any new gambling options in Florida without a provision for a statewide constitutional amendment. 

"The Legislature has demonstrated, over the last 30-40 years, frankly an inability to create normalcy, to create predictability in the gaming environment,'' said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "It has allowed for more loopholes that I could count. I believe for the Florida House to even take up, to even consider a gaming bill, that we would have to have confidence that we are going to put a constitutional amendment on the with regard to the people to have a voice or I don't think you'll see us taking up gaming in the House."

Weatherford said the amendment would have to be a "referendum that would be approved at 60 percent for any other expansion of gaming. I thnk the citizens of Florida want to have their hand on the wheel when it comes to expansion of gambling." 

He defines expansion, he said, as "anything new."