April 08, 2014

Sachs puts the brakes on greyhound racing de-coupling as hearing 'melts down'

The effort to reduce greyhound racing in Florida hit the skids Tuesday as the sponsor of the amendment was forced to withdraw it after infighting within the industry made it impossible for her to win the votes.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, withdrew the measure as worries about election year politics, the looming uncertainty of a gaming compact, and infighting between the bitterly competitive gaming industry overshadowed the debate.

"It was a meltdown,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, after the meeting.

The Senate Gaming Committee voted unanimously to require dog tracks to report injuries for the first time and passed SB 742 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. The bill imposes fines on track veterinarians who fail to report race-related injuries and follows a similar bill passed last year that requires tracks to report greyhound deaths. In the first 9 months, 74 greyhound deaths were reported – more than one every three days. 

Sachs wanted to expand the injury reporting bill by adding an amendment that would have allowed dog tracks -- for the first time in Florida history -- to operate their poker rooms and slot machines without live racing. Sachs has supported a similar bill for the past four years and it is vigorously backed by animal rights activists, dozens of whom crowded the committee meeting room for the hearing.

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April 07, 2014

Economists: If greyhound tracks decouple, state will see revenue dip for two years

GreyhoundsEven before the ink was dry on the proposed amendment to SB 742 to allow greyhound tracks to operate their poker room and slot machine operations without racing dogs, the state's economists were hard at work calculating the cost.

Economists estimate that by ending the requirement to run 100 live races a year, the state could lose between $78,000 to $336,000 in tax revenue the first year and $121,000 the second year. As tracks raise additional money from inter-track wagering operations, taxes from those operations would start to offset the lost revenue in the third year and that would continue to increase over time.

Economists came to these conclusions on Friday, before the amendment by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, saw the light of day. But this is important: these numbers are not expected to be the net cost to the state if greyhound racing declines.  Download Sachs Decoupling amendment

There are 20 greyhound tracks operating in the state and economists estimate that at least seven will stop live racing if the bill were to pass. With fewer races, there will be a need for less regulation and, proponents say, that will produce a net savings. How much is still unknown but, according to the Spectrum Gaming study commissioned by lawmakers last year, the state spends about $4.1 million a year to regulate the industry and takes in $3.1 million in revenue -- a net loss of about $1 million, according to 2012 numbers.

The higher estimate produced by state economists is based on many assumptions: that seven of the 20 dog tracks stop racing completely, one reduces its races by 50 percent and another by 65 percent and the tax rate on intertrack wagering is fixed at 1.28 percent.

The economists assume that if legislators "de-couple" live racing from the other gambling operations, it won't mean the end to greyhound racing in Florida, just the reduction of it -- by an estimated 42 percent.

The Senate Gaming Committee is scheduled to take up a bill Tuesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to require all greyhound tracks to report their injuries. Sachs will be among many of the amendments proposed and it is expected to pass. It's fate remains uncertain in the House. 

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April 03, 2014

State officials announce more arrests in continuing crackdown on Internet cafés

From an FDLE press release:

The Illegal Gaming Task Force served search warrants today in five Florida counties targeting internet cafés owned by Ivan Vega, 1873 Pine Bay Drive, Lake Mary, Fla., and Peter Miller, 120 Sand Castle Way, Neptune Beach, Fla.

These warrants represent a continuing crackdown on the operators of illegal gambling centers around Florida known as internet cafés.  Along with today's operation, Ivan Vega was also arrested on a warrant from an earlier investigation conducted by State Attorney Willie Meggs of the 2nd Judicial Circuit. Vega was charged with keeping a gambling house, manufacture, sale, possession of coin operated devices, lottery, and plays at games of chance.

“These warrants are a key step in investigating organizations claiming to be ‘internet cafés’ but actually conducting illegal gaming. My Office of Statewide Prosecution will continue to collaborate with law enforcement on these cases,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Search warrants were executed in Duval, Columbia, Marion, Brevard, Lake and counties. During the execution of warrants, Gaming Task Force investigators seized computers, cash related to the illegal activity, banking records and employee rosters. 

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Senate to revive bill to end greyhound racing and report injuries

In a rare concession, the Florida Senate Gaming chairman on Thursday acknowledged that it is unlikely lawmakers can reach agreement on a sweeping gaming bill this legislative session but they will pursue a bill to begin the end of greyhound racing in Florida.

The Senate will abandon its gambling rewrite -- unless the governor negotiates a compact with the Seminole Tribe, said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, in an announcement Thursday to the full Senate.

But he said the Senate will convene its gaming committee next week to take up bills by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, that end the requirement that greyhound tracks race dogs and to require injury reporting at greyhound tracks.

“Even if comprehensive reform is not in the cards for this session, we need to keep trying to find a graceful transition away from greyhound racing,'' Richter said. "Industry representatives concede today that it’s a dying sport" and a gaming report commissioned by the House and Senate called the sport "loss leaders." 

As for the compact, House Speaker Will Weatherford said Wednesday "it's getting late,'' to complete an agreement. 

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April 02, 2014

Weatherford: Time is running out for a gambling bill

Gov. Rick Scott is in quiet, some say subdued, negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over a new gambling compact. The House won't take up a bill to address gambling expansion until a compact is complete. And the Senate has repeatedly postponed a hearing to vote out its proposal to build two new destination casinos in Miami Dade and Broward.

Conclusion: "It's getting late,'' said House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday.

As the Legislature reached its half-way point of the 60-day session on Wednesday, pre-session predictions seem to be coming true as the odds of a gambling bill emerging, then passing, become dimmer each day.

Weatherford told reporters that while the House has moved one bill through committee, it's not prepared to take any more action until the governor acts. 

"We said for the last six months, there were two components: One was a negotiated compact. We have not seen that and we’re almost at the sixth week of session,'' he said. "It’s probably getting a little late for a compact at this point. And second, we said we needed a constitutional amendment to move from both chambers. That doesn’t look like it’s moving in the Senate either. It’s getting late.”

Meanwhile, legislators have had no updates on the progress of the negotiations. "It's very quiet,'' Weatherford said. 

 

 

March 19, 2014

Update: House moves forward on gambling overhaul while Scott asks Senate to put brakes on

As a Florida House committee voted Wednesday to create new state agency to regulate gambling, Gov. Rick Scott asked the Senate to put the brakes on its proposal to bring two resort casinos to South Florida so that the legislation would not interfere with his gambling negotiations with the Seminole Tribe.

As a result, Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter abruptly cancelled a Monday meeting scheduled to take up the Senate’s gambling bills.

“The governor’s office called me and asked if we would slow down the process until we know what the terms of a potential deal with the tribe is,’’ Richter told the Herald/Times late Wednesday. He said he expects the vote to be delayed for at least another week and he is optimistic the governor will resolve the gaming compact before session ends in May.

The compact, a legal agreement between the state and the tribe, guarantees that the tribe give the state about $234 million a year in revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. It also allows the tribe to operate banked card games — blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat — at the Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and near Hollywood, plus three other casinos.

The portion of the agreement that relates to table games expires Aug. 1, 2015, and Scott has decided to start negotiating terms of the deal now. If he resolves the agreement, legislators must ratify it and it is uncertain whether that could be completed before session is scheduled to adjourn May 2.

Meanwhile the House and Senate are moving forward with bills that overhaul how the state regulates gaming and both are prepared to open the door to expanded gaming of the governor agrees to allow new games during his negotiations with the tribe. Story here.

 

March 18, 2014

Agency continues to reject Gulfstream - Genting deal

From the News Service of Florida

State regulators denied a request to move a non-profit pari-mutuel permit associated with Gulfstream Park racetrack to a downtown Miami location, effectively blocking a deal with gambling giant Genting to start a stand-alone casino.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Friday denied the request by the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program Inc., or GPTARP, saying that the permit was issued to the non-profit for use in Broward County and can't be moved to Miami-Dade County.

The permit is a cornerstone of a deal struck by Gulfstream and Resorts World, a division of Malaysia-based Genting Group, along with breeders and thoroughbred horse owners and trainers, to open a casino hotel at a Miami bayfront property purchased by Genting in 2011 for $236 million.

Under the plan, Resorts World would use the GPTARP permit to operate up to 2,000 slot machines at the Miami locale, while races would continue at theGulfstream site.

Critics of the plan say that it would essentially "decouple" racing from the more-lucrative gambling --- slot machines and poker --- the pari-mutuel permits allow. Resorts World lobbyists are also trying to get lawmakers to approve the deal during the legislative session that ends in May.

March 10, 2014

Arcades fix could create potential problems, critics warn

Arcades like Dave & Busters and Chuck E Cheese will no longer be in violation of state law when they operate their coinless games under a bill that won unanimous support Wednesday in the Senate Gaming Committee.

The bill, PCB 668 by Sen. Kelli Stargel, is intended to fix a law passed by legislators last year that outlawed Internet Cafes but snagged family amusement centers in the process. The groups organized, pleaded with lawmakers to revise the law and urged local police not to enforce it against them. Legislators returned with bills to revise the ban.

Now, skeptics say, the remedy could cause another round of troubles for the state’s porous gambling laws.

Marc Dunbar, a gaming law expert and lobbyist for the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, told the Senate committee that the bill could allow clever operators to use holes in the law to develop technology that could bring a new round of electronic games to Florida’s strip malls, and police would be powerless to stop them.

If this bill passes in its current form, without some state regulator to enforce it, he said that illegal operators will be popping up across the state and “law enforcement are essentially playing a game of whack-a-mole.”

The bill revises the definition of an amusement game and allows them to be placed in arcades, truck stops, bowling centers, hotels and restaurants. It removes the requirement that operators have 50-games in their centers and it now allows players to use different types of currency — tokens, cards or coupons — instead of just coins to operate the games. It raises the total prize per game from 75 cents to $5.25, and allows for prizes valued at up to $50.

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Scott's finance chairman Mike Fernandez and the political committee switch

@SteveBousquet

When Gov. Rick Scott peered up at the House visitors' gallery in his State of the State speech last week, he saw his wife Ann, their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Seated close by and  joining in the applause was Mike Fernandez, a wealthy Cuban-American health care executive from Coral Gables and one of Scott's leading fund-raisers.

Fernandez has donated $1 million to Scott's campaign and serves as its co-finance chairman, and he has lucrative contracts under the state's Medicaid managed care program. In separate interviews, Scott and Fernandez said the contributions and contracts have no relation to each other.

"Whatever business Mike does with the state of Florida, he does on his own," Scott said. "He believes in what I'm doing. He believes in good government. If you listen to his story, he was escorted out of Cuba on a government plane ... He believes in the dream of America, which is what I believe in."

Of course, not everyone will believe that, and a $1 million check from Fernandez to Scott's Let's Get to Work committee won't end the talk. The mere size of the donation invites cynicism (all told, Fernandez has given $1.25 million to Let's Get to Work).

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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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