March 10, 2014

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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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 10, 2014

Senate gaming proposal will likely include language about destination casinos

It isn't 100 percent clear what will be included in the Senate's proposed overhaul of gambling laws, due out Feb. 24.

But one controversial element is likely to make the cut: destination casinos.

On Monday, Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said he opposed a "carte blanche expansion of gaming throughout the entire state of Florida." 

But he would like to see one Vegas-style casino in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County.

"[Miami] attracts people from around the world," Richter said. "Those folks show up with Euro dollars, with yen. Those could be new revenue dollars to the state."

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, raised objections to the idea.

"I think we should let the market compete and decide where they want to put them," Clemens said.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Maria Sachs wasn't sold on Richter's suggestion, either. 

"This is an open-ended conversation when it comes to the number and geographic destination, and the exclusivity," said Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat. 

The Senate bill is also expected to address other elements, ranging from decoupling to the creation of a "gaming control" department. 

Richter said Monday that he does not want the committee to take a final vote on the proposal during the first week of the session. He would rather committee members spend time deliberating and debating the bill, he said.

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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