April 07, 2015

House folds its ambitious gambling bill

House Republican Leader Dana Young on Tuesday confirmed what has been speculated for months: this won't be the year for gaming expansion, destination resort casinos, or even new games for the Seminole Tribe.

Young released a revamped gaming bill, HB 1233, that signals her long-held goal: to end greyhound racing as we know it by ending the requirement that dog tracks operate live racing in order to offer card games or slot machines.

The proposal, quietly released on Tuesday, shrinks the 316-page bill to 59 and removes all opportunities for gaming expansion in Florida. 

It provides a lifeline, however, to the 12 remaining greyhound tracks whose owners increasingly say dog racing is costing them money and want the option of phasing out of the sport. State regulators also say that the cost of regulating greyhound racing is higher than the tax revenue it brings in.

Young, a dog advocate, also uses her bill to require tracks that continue to race greyhounds to adhere to strict new requirements to report all dog injuries. The provision, named after Victoria Q. Gaetz, the wife of former Senate President Don Gaetz, passed the Senate last year but failed to make it through the House on the final day of the legislative session. 

The previous version of Young's bill was the subject of a workshop of the House Regulated Industries Committee, where support for the ambitious overhaul appeared slim. 

Young's plan attempted to expand some gambling operations while contracting others. It opened up the opportunity for two destination resort casinos to operate in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, phased out dog racing and unused racing permits, capped any future gaming expansion, ended tax credits for pari-mutuels, and created a state gaming commission to provide streamlined oversight of the industry.

Young's revamped bill eliminates all those provisions, except the dog racing provisions and caps on permits. 

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on its scaled-back proposal to offer up a one-year extension of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. The compact is scheduled to expire on July 31.

Amendments to that bill, SPB 7088, if passed, could open the door to allowing some additional gambling -- such as slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Another amendment, by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, would track Young's proposal to end the requirement for live racing at dog tracks, a provision known as decoupling.

April 03, 2015

Senate answers gaming call -- proposes one-year extension of compact to buy time

Florida Sen. Rob Bradley announced Friday that he wants to expand the current gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for one year to buy time to continue negotiations.  

Bradley, R-Fleming Island, chair of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, said he filed legislation to extend the provision of the compact that expires on July 31 for one year. The measure is scheduled to come before his committee next week. 

“Gaming is a complex issue with many stakeholders who have diverse viewpoints, opinions, and ideas. An extension of the current compact is a common sense solution to the time sensitive environment in which we find ourselves,'' Bradley said in a statement. "This approach allows the tribe to maintain the jobs associated with their current operations and the state to continue to receive revenue which can be used to advance our budget priorities."

Bradley's proposal is a scaled-down counterpoint to the massive gaming reform offered by the House. The House bill, which was the subject of a workshop last weke, would allow for the expansion of gambling across the state, usher in resort casinos in Miami Dade and Broward, give pari-mutuels in Palm Beach and Lee counties slot machines, and end dog-racing at the greyhound tracks that also operate poker rooms.

The bill is so broad that questions remain whether it's author, Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, could get the votes among the traditionally gaming-averse House. 

“Providing more time for all parties to continue this important discussion about the future of gaming in our state will ensure we find the right policy rather than the quick answer,” Bradley said. 

Seminole Tribe tries to woo lawmakers with ad in Tallahasssee

The Seminole Tribe of Florida isn't pulling its punches.

As the future of the tribe's gambling compact with the state hangs in the balance this legislative session, and with a new approach to gaming proposed by House Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young, the Seminole Tribe is trying to force lawmakers to hear their position.

In new ads on TV and radio in Tallahassee, the tribe has this message: "We know the Seminole Compact works. Let's keep it going."

March 26, 2015

House committee workshops gambling plan but progress looks dim

The odds of passing a sweeping rewrite of the state’s gambling laws appeared to dim Thursday as a House committee began debate on a draft proposal to expand gambling in Florida and ended with no commitment to take up the bill for a vote.

Meanwhile, progress appeared to be occurring on another gambling debate -- behind closed doors – as key lawmakers confirmed they continue to talk about renewing the portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that expires in July.

“I would describe our discussions as having been more detailed than they have perhaps been in the past,’’ said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

He said that he has been in meeting with tribal negotiators “over the past several days” as the Seminoles discuss renewing their exclusive agreement with the state to operate black jack and other banked card games in return for an estimated $136 million in revenue sharing each year.

Continue reading "House committee workshops gambling plan but progress looks dim" »

March 19, 2015

Seminole Tribe: House and Senate are posturing but serious talks are not underway

CasinoThe Florida Seminole Tribe is on the defensive. 

After five years of quietly writing a monthly check to the state as part of the landmark gaming compact that gave them the exclusive right to operate black jack, chemin de fer and baccarat at their Hard Rock casinos, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have sent a signal that they may not renew the deal when that portion of their agreement expires in July.

In an effort to make the case to continue the deal that drew at least $1 billion in revenue for the state over five years, the Tribe has broken its silence.

In the last month, it paid for a statewide television ad, espousing the value of the gaming compact. It financed a statewide poll, that showed that most voters support continuing the gaming compact. It launched a lobbying campaign to “educate” legislators about why provisions in the compact stifle the gaming “creep” that happens when states allow non-tribal gaming to expand.

And on Wednesday, the tribe’s general counsel and chief executive agreed to a rare on-the-record interview with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau and the News Service of Florida.

“We want to see if there is a way to extend the contract before it expires. We’re still early in the game,'' said Seminole General Counsel Jim Shore. "We’re trying to figure out where everybody is on the compact or gaming issue.”  

Here’s what we learned:

Continue reading "Seminole Tribe: House and Senate are posturing but serious talks are not underway" »

March 16, 2015

Seminoles finance poll that finds majority of voters want to renew the gaming compact

CasinoA new poll financed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida finds that voters like the level of gambling currently being offered today throughout the state and support the renewal of the gaming compact between the Tribe and the state. 

The poll is a "screaming" statement about "where people see gaming. They like it the way it is. They fear having more of it,'' said Adam Goodman, the poll's media consultant in a conference call with reporters. 

A portion of the tribal compact expires in July and the Florida House has proposed a bill to end it and replace it with a massive expansion of gaming in South Florida. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, says it is considering not renewing the option of the compact that expires this year.

Does voter support for the status quo mean the Tribe agrees and will not attempt to expand gaming by negotiating additional games at its casinos? Not quite. 

"The Tribe is not ruling out anything regarding the renegotiating of the compact or the extension of the table games provision of the compact,'' said Gary Bitner, the Tribe's spokesman. 

From the Tribe's  press release:

Continue reading "Seminoles finance poll that finds majority of voters want to renew the gaming compact" »

March 02, 2015

Tribe launches counter push against gaming legislation

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has broken its silence.

On Monday, the same day the House unveiled a sweeping bill to allow for gambling expansion in South Florida with two destination resort casinos, the Tribe began airing a 30-second television ad in Tallahassee reminding the public about and the $1 billion in revenues the Seminoles have sent the state in the last five years.

The existing compact is "a partnership that works for Florida," states the ad by Adam Goodman of Tampa. It will air in media markets across the state in the next several weeks, said Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner

"The bottom line is what’s going to be best for the State of Florida,'' Goodman said. "We’re trying just to get basic information on the table about the compact and it’s a beginning of the effort to share this with the rest of the state.”

Under the proposal, filed Monday by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, the state would forgo the estimated $260 million a year in revenue from the Tribe in exchange for an estimated $350 million in gaming revenues from two destination resort casinos.


House to open door to destination resorts, gaming in Palm Beach and dog racing reforms

South Florida could become an even bigger gambling haven with two new destination resort casinos and four dog tracks operating slot machines -- instead of racing dogs -- under a sweeping gaming rewrite filed Monday by House Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.

The measure, filed in the traditionally gaming-averse House, takes a novel approach to gaming by requiring destination resort operators to buy out active gaming permits in order to operate the swanky casinos.

The bill also helps the powerful South Florida pari-mutuels, who have contributed heavily to GOP election coffers for the last several years, by reducing the tax rate for existing racinos, allowing dog tracks in Palm Beach and Naples to run slot machines, and ending the requirement that dog tracks race dogs in order to offer gaming.

Gaming options would also expand in other parts of the state, such as Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, where wagering on videos of "historical races" would be allowed as a new form of gambling. The seven casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe would also see expanded games as they could offer the full array of black jack, roulette, and craps that are available to the resort casinos.

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January 21, 2015

Governor holds secret meeting with gambling execs

CasinoThe top executives of seven of South Florida gambling venues traveled to Tallahassee Wednesday to have a pre-arranged, closed-door meeting with Gov. Rick Scott who, in keeping with his un-even policies on transparency, kept it off his public agenda. 

The officials -- from the Isle of Capri, Dania, Mardi Gras, Calder, Magic City, Miami Jai Alai and Hialeah -- discussed their continued hopes for the Seminole gaming compact, sources close to the casinos told the Herald/Times.

The governor must either re-negotiate a portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida by the end of July, or forfeit about $116 million of annual revenue. Although the governor negotiates the deal, the Legislature will have the final say since it must approve it.

The pari-mutuels want to use the compact as an opportunity to lower their tax rate to better allow them to compete with the tribe.

Absent from the meeting was Gulfstream race track and casino and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club, the other two South Florida pari-mutuels. PBKC's top priority is to bring slot machines to the track and end the requirement that they race dogs in order to operate poker games.

Here is the public version of the governor's schedule:

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January 11, 2015

Legislature's offer to not renew card games for Seminoles: bluff or bargain?

Black jackThis could be a lucky year for owners of dog tracks, horse tracks and even Miami’s resort casino promoters.

The state’s budget outlook is so good that Florida legislative leaders have suggested that they may not renew a key provision of the gambling agreement — known as the compact — between the state and the Seminole Tribe that allows the tribe to run blackjack tables and other banked card games at its casinos.

By rejecting an estimated $116million a year and reducing the games offered by the tribe, legislators could have new latitude to do something they have failed to do for the past five years: update the state’s outdated gaming laws and open the door to new gambling options from the tribe’s competitors.

Or, they could just be bluffing.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the governor and Legislature end up doing nothing on the compact,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will be the Senate’s point man on negotiations this legislative session.

He admitted it may be a ploy to get the tribe and everybody else to the table. “The loss of the banked card games is enough to motivate further negotiation,” he said. Read more here.