March 03, 2014

House unveils its gaming bill: overhaul regulation, no new casinos

The Florida House weighed into the gambling debate on Monday and proposed a bill that won't authorize new casinos but will overhaul the state’s gambling laws, putting all regulation of race tracks, slot machines and poker rooms under a Gaming Control Commission, similar to those in Nevada, New Jersey and other large gaming states.

Unlike a similar Senate plan, which overhauls regulation and authorizes new casino resorts in Miami Dade and Broward counties, the House plan leaves the decision to introduce mega-casinos to Florida to Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor can approve or reject the casinos when he negotiates a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The governor has until July 2015 to re-negotiate a portion of the 20-year gaming compact that applies to the tribe’s exclusive right to operate table games such as black jack, chemin de fer and baccarat at its South Florida casinos.

The House also drafted a constitutional amendment that would require voters to approve any expansion of gambling that does not get approved by legislators this year. The measure could close the door to any future expansion of gambling in the state because 60 percent of voters statewide would have to approve of any new venture. That condition offers a measure of economic security to those in business now, and attempts to win the support of gambling opponents who see it as a permanent limit on expanded gambling.

The Senate has also proposed a constitutional amendment that give voters the authority to restrict future games, but the House proposal is more restrictive.

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February 26, 2014

Winners in Senate gambling bill were leaders in campaign cash

CoinsThe clear winners in the gambling bill released on Monday by the Senate Gaming Committee -- Genting, Gulfstream Park, Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe -- have also been among the most generous donors to Republican political funds this election cycle.

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said there were "no surprises" in the 453-page SPB 7052, which rewrites most of the state's gambling laws. He had telegraphed that it would include the opportunity for two resort casinos, one each in Miami Dade and the other in Broward.

What was surprising to some is that the bill failed to authorize additional gambling options for South Florida racinos or open the opportunity for race tracks to expand their gambling offerings across the state. That is the position that another big donor to Republicans -- the Seminole Tribe -- has been seeking.

The Senate bill does allow for some reduction in dog racing, a concession to the greyhounds tracks like West Flagler's track in Bonita Springs, which wants to reduce its requirement to offer racing at the rate it was racing in 1996. But the bill didn't give the track owners what they really wanted -- the chance to offer card rooms and slot machines without offering live racing.

There remains a very strong chance that a regulatory bill passes this year with no expanded gambling -- not even a destination resort -- leaving room for the governor to hold all the cards when negotiations take place over a new compact with the Seminole Tribe next year.

Guess who that helps? The biggest contributor of all, Disney Worldwide, which gave (along with its affiliates) a whopping $1.6 million this election cycle -- including $802,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. 

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February 24, 2014

Richter: Senate gaming bill 'has no surprises'

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter told the Herald/Times on Monday that the sweeping rewrite of the state's gaming laws proposed by the Senate "should come as no surprise to anybody" -- including the broad expansion of gambling.

The proposal the Senate unveiled on Monday would bring casino resorts to Miami Dade and Broward counties and subject the the gaming industry to new regulation with the creation of a Gaming Control Commission. 

Under the Senate proposal, Miami-Dade and Broward would each get a new resort casino, dog tracks could race fewer dogs, greyhound injuries would be reported — and all this could happen without voter approval. (It's uncertain whether slot machines would be allowed at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and the five other tracks in countries that have approved gaming.) 

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Senate proposes gaming control board, constitutional amendment, but stops there

The long-awaited Senate gambling proposal was released today with a package of three bills creating a Department of Gaming Control; authorizing the governor to do what he is required by federal law to do -- negotiate a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida -- and a new constutitional amendment requiring that any additional gambling expansion receive voter approval.

Absent from the proposals -- so far -- is the list of expanded games. This appears to put the ball in the governor's court, as we have been writing for the last month, requiring him to use the power of the compact to negotiate any changes in gaming expansion.

Here are the bills:

* Gaming control -- SPB 7052 creating the Gaming Control Board; transferring the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to the Gaming Control Board within the Department of Gaming Control by type two transfer; transferring the Pari-mutuel Wagering Trust Fund within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to the Department of Gaming Control by type two transfer, etc.

* Constitutional amendment -- SPB 7050

* Public records exemption for gaming control -- SPB 7054

February 16, 2014

The dark side of Florida's greyhound racing: a death every three days

GreyhoundsPenrose Jake, a fawn-colored greyhound, was known for being “tight on the rail” with an “explosive finish.” But after starting strong in the 550-yard race at the Orange Park Kennel Club last August, the dog faded, slammed into another dog, and finished last.

Within hours, 3-year-old Penrose Jake was pronounced dead. He had run a career 127 races, 42 of them in his last year.

The official death report said he died “after the eighth race” of the Jacksonville track’s evening lineup on Aug. 21, 2013. A race video recorded his final competition. No other information was provided. 

The death of a greyhound like Penrose Jake would have normally gone unreported in Florida. But track operators are now required to notify the state within 18 hours of a greyhound’s death at a track or racing kennel in Florida. Approved by lawmakers in 2010, the rules didn’t take effect until last spring — more than 80 years after dog racing became legal in Florida — a testament to the greyhound racing industry’s power and influence in Tallahassee.

According to death reports reviewed by the Herald/Times, 74 dogs died on race track property between May 31 and December 31, 2013 — one every three days.

Unlike other states, Florida’s greyhound industry does not have to report injuries. And, although some death reports provide detailed information, many do not. Among the deaths: Story here. 

Here is the list of greyhound deaths:

Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room (Daytona Beach)  12

Derby Lane (St. Petersburg)  12

Ebro Greyhound Park (Ebro)  7

Flagler Greyhound Track (Miami)  7

Mardi Gras Gaming (Hallandale) none reporting in reporting period

Melbourne Greyhound Park (Melbourne)  none reported in reporting period

Naples-Ft. Myers Greyhound Track (Bonita Springs) 2

Orange Park Kennel Club (Orange Park)  7

Palm Beach Kennel Club (W. Palm Beach) 5

Pensacola Greyhound Track (Pensacola)  4

Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club (Longwood)  8

Sarasota Kennel Club (Sarasota) 4


February 07, 2014

Genting's Miami real estate gamble: idle and uncertain

Genting building@Doug_Hanks

Amid a downtown building boom, one of Miami’s largest landholders continues to sit quietly on the sidelines. The big question: When will Genting make a move?

The Malaysian gambling giant in 2012 pulled back on its grand plans for a 5,000-room casino resort on the Miami waterfront after facing a backlash over the project’s proposed size. Last year it proposed a more traditional mix of condo towers, about 500 hotel rooms and a ground-floor cluster of shops and restaurants.

Now Genting is making moves that could jump-start its stalled plans to build a smaller complex on the waterfront as it bypasses the zoning process in favor of a quick building permit. But with Genting trying to quickly bring a slots casino to land it owns near the waterfront, the company could feel less pressure to start building as it waits for a more favorable gambling climate hinted at this week in Tallahassee. Story here. 


Richter delays release of Senate gambling bill until Feb. 24

Here's the content of the letter to members from Senate Gaming Committee Chairman, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on Friday:

During the Gaming Committee meeting last Monday, I announced plans to publish the first DRAFT of a comprehensive gaming bill shortly before our February 10 committee meeting. That timing was driven by: (1) my goal to get the proposed committee bill on our agenda for February 17, and (2) Senate policy that a proposed committee bill be published on the Senate website prior to inclusion on a meeting notice (by February 10 for the meeting on February 17).

As it turned out, we did not finish the workshop on “elements and options” for inclusion in the proposed committee bill. Our discussion was helpful and productive, but there simply was not enough time to cover the issues presented. That being the case I think the right choice now is to postpone filing the proposed committee bill until the committee completes its high-level review.

On February 10, the Gaming Committee will continue consideration of “elements and options.” If we finish, and I expect we will, we will not meet on February 17. If more meeting time is required before the initial draft is published, we can meet again on February 17.

In either case, I expect to publish the proposed committee bill on February 24 and to take it up for the first time during the week ofMarch 3. As discussed when we last met, the SPB likely will be deliberated, discussed, potentially amended, and temporarily passed several times before the Gaming Committee considers a motion to introduce it as a committee bill.



Court affirms ruling that barrel racing is not a legit parimutuel sport in Florida

The First District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court and on Tuesday ruled that the decision by Florida regulators to license barrel racing as a parimutuel sport was a misuse of the rulemaking powers of the state. Download 13-2660

“ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule,” the court said. 

Here are the statements from the United Florida Horsemen and the group representing the barrel racers: 

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February 04, 2014

Weatherford says House leaders are now on-board for casino expansion now

After years of resistance, the conservative leadership of the Florida House has signaled its willingness to pass legislation that would expand gambling to include new Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami Dade and Broward in exchange for a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any new games in the future.

“I would be willing to talk about gaming in the State of Florida, even expansion, in return for contraction in some areas and passing a constitutional amendment,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford in an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

Weatherford added, however, that for the House to support new casinos there would have to be two strings attached: Gov. Rick Scott would have to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe in 2014 — a year before the a key provision is set to expire — and the new casinos would not start up unless a constitutional amendment is passed in November to require voter approval of any subsequent games in the future.

“It’s a trade-off that I’m willing to do,’’ Weatherford said

Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, last week told reporters that passing a sweeping gaming bill was not a priority for him this session. However, his statement Tuesday breathes new life into an issue that appeared to be stalled for another year.

It also guarantees that legislators have more time to solicit campaign contributions to their political committees from multi-national casino giants as well as gambling interests in Florida who want their own casinos. Full story here. 

February 03, 2014

State accuses greyhound trainer of forging signature of dead doctor to race dogs


One of the largest greyhound kennel operators in the state used the signature of a dead Miami veterinarian to forge vaccination records of dogs racing in South Florida, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville, according to a state complaint.

The allegations against James E. “Barney” O'Donnell raise more questions about the safety of the animals that run at Florida’s greyhound tracks and an apparent lack of oversight from the Division of Parimutuel Wagering - the agency assigned to regulate the industry.

State law requires that every kennel show proof that all active and inactive racing dogs be vaccinated for certain diseases such as kennel cough. From July 2010 until the end of 2011, O’Donnell offered regulators proof that 94 of his dogs who raced at Mardi Gras Racetrack in Hallandale Beach, the Orange Park Kennel Club in Jacksonville and the St. Petersburg Kennel Club had been vaccinated.

The documents included the signature of a long-time Miami veterinarian, Dr. Emilio Vega.

But there was one problem: Vega was dead.

“Dr. Emilio Vega has been deceased since June 30, 2010, and therefore did not administer vaccinations to Respondents greyhounds between July 2010 and 2011,’’ the state wrote in its complaint.

The state now is asking an administrative law judge to fine O’Donnell $96,000 and revoke his license to race greyhounds. Story here. 

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