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Senate committee proposes elements of a gambling overhaul in Florida

The Florida Senate is in the midst of drafting a sweeping overhaul of the state's gambling legislation and, judging by the committee's checklist, it will include a grab bag of goodies for many seeking to restructure, and expand, gambling in Florida. Whether any of it will pass this election year, is another story.

"I'm not sure when we cross the finish line,'' said Sen. Garrett Richter, chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee on Monday. He said the bill to be released Feb. 10 will be at least 300 pages long and the Senate's effort is "a signficant endeavor." The committee today will discuss what elements it would like to include.

Among the likely components in the bill:

* Allow for expansion of gambling, including a Destination Resorts casino in Miami-Dade or Broward County, only after a statewide referendum vote is approved. The destination resort investors may also be required to generate a minimum share of the revenue from out-of-state gamblers. 

* Revise the state's hole-ridden regulation of gaming by creating a new state "Gaming Control" department that is regulated by either a secretary or a multi-member commission.  

* Eliminate or reduce the requirement that horse and dog tracks operate live racing in order to run poker games and slot machines. This concept known as "decoupling" has the support of most dog track owners in Florida but is a concept that divides the horse community. 

* Require parimutuels in other parts of the state, such as Palm Beach and Tampa, to get local voter approval to operate slot machines. 

* In exchange for decoupling and expanded games at Florida's existing racinos, parimutuel owners would have to commit to a minimum capital investment, designed to ensure that jobs are generated. 

* Remove requirements on video slot machines run by arcades such as: removing the requirement that there are 50 or more machines in a facility, removing the requirement that machines be coin operated; raise the ability to collect winnings in increments of 75 cents per game. 

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters that passing a gaming rewrite is not one of their session priorities, lowering expectations on whether a bill will pass this year.

Also hovering over any decision related to gambling is the state's agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a portion of which expires in July 2015. If the state approves any expanded gambling outside of Miami Dade and Broward, the tribe is no longer required to pay the $250 million in annual revenues under the agreement. If the state allows for expanded gambling in Miami-Dade and Broward, including creating a destination resort as Las Vegas Sands and Genting want to see in Miami, the tribe would stop paying a portion of its fees to the state - estimated by legislative staff as about $140 million.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton lawyer involved in drafting the 2009 gambling legislation, noted that in addition to the Seminole Tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida also have a right to negotiate a compact with the state if they want to operate games that exceed those that are presently allowed in Florida. 

Gov. Rick Scott, whose job it is to re-negotiate the contract, has indicated no interest in negotiating any tribal deal before the November elections.