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Negron is confident he has 'cobbled enough votes together' to pass amendment to expand slots to several counties

A confident Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Tuesday he has the votes to pass his controversial amendment to allow six counties who have who have already conducted voter-approved referenda to operate slot machines at their parimutuels.

The amendment, before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday, would authorize the governor to re-negotiate a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe to allow for the expanded games in Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington counties, in return for a lower revenue-share than the $3 billion the tribe has guaranteed.

The amendment, if approved, would be attached to SB 7074 to ratify the rest of the gaming compact with the tribe and accompany a second bill, SB 7072, that would authorize the expansion of slot machines in the six counties, and a handful of other communities that conduct future referenda on slots within a certain time frame, Negron said.

"The voters have approved it,'' he said. "I don't think the government should stand in the way of voter preferences that have been expressed at the ballot box. It's particularly ironic when the State of Florida is running a $5 billion a year numbers game called the Florida Lottery. We are a state that has gaming, including voter-approved lottery, so to me if communities have approved it I don't see why the Legislature would stand in the way if citizens elect to spend their discretionary entertainment dollars."

He said he considers the existing requirement that ties slot licenses to operating horse and dog racing "anachronistic to me" because the sports are on the decline.

He said he will also amend the compact bill, SB 7074, to allow for regulated daily Fantasy Sports betting in Florida without interfering with the tribe's revenue share. He is offering an amendment that will attach his bill to regulate Fantasy Sports to SB 7072, Bradley's companion bill that revises regulations of the pari-mutuel industry. The new regulation would come under a new Office of Amusements, housed in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- which also houses the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering. The office would impose a $500,000 licensing fee on all Fantasy Sports operators to pay for the new bureaucracy.

"There are ongoing discussions about where we are going to land,'' Negron told reporters Tuesday after meeting with Gov. Rick Scott on budget issues. He said he will continue to work with Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who was involved in the negotiations of the draft proposal. "But everyone understood at the outset that that was the beginning point."

His amendment will allow for each of the six counties who have already conducted voter-approved referendums to operate slot machines at their parimutuels to get a slots permit and would reduce the tax rate on slot machines from 35 percent to 25 percent.

The additional tax revenues from those expanded games would then offset the loss in revenue from the gaming compact with the tribe. Under the initial proposal, the tribe would guarantee the state $3 billion a year for the exclusive right to operate blackjack, craps and roulette at its seven casinos. If the state authorized two additional slots permits at Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, the tribe would not reduce its revenue share. 

"The tribe has to look at the benefits it is getting for exclusivitity and additional games and the opportunity for expanded business opportunities and what they're willing to give up,'' he told reporters on Tuesday. 

He said there has not been an official fiscal note on his amendment "but we have some rough ideas of what additional revenue would come from some of the pari-mutuels that have additional slot opportunities and how that offsets'' the revenue from the tribe.

Negron's plan also gives industry players pieces they have sought for years. Casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward would get up to 25 blackjack tables, 

Negron said he supports the compact and wants it to pass. "I think the compact is in the best interest of Florida moving forward,'' he said, adding that his amendment will also "extinguish some potential gaming licenses" to retract the gaming footprint "which is important to some members of the committee."

"The Seminole Tribe wants a compact to pass and they've known all along there would be modifications and revisions,'' he said. "So we're just trying to cobble together enough votes out of the committee tomorrow." 

Negron said that he and Scott did not discuss the compact during their brief meeting on the tax cuts and economic incentives.