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


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).

Continue reading "Scott's finance chairman Mike Fernandez and the political committee switch" »

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.

Continue reading "House unveils its gaming bill: overhaul regulation, no new casinos" »

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. 

Continue reading "Winners in Senate gambling bill were leaders in campaign cash " »

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.) 

Continue reading "Richter: Senate gaming bill 'has no surprises'" »

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.