A Florida House gambling proposal released late Monday would do away with nearly a dozen inactive pari-mutuel permits and create a gambling oversight board but is most notable perhaps for what it lacks.
The 411-page House plan, sponsored by state House Select Committee on Gaming Chairman Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, does not contain any mention of destination resort casinos at the heart of a Senate gambling proposal released last week.
The House is expected to release a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval of any expansion of gambling, including any plans approved during this spring’s legislative session. The Senate released a proposal that would only require voter approval of future expansions.
Under the House gambling bill (HB 1383), the governor would appoint a five-member “Gaming Control Commission.” A legislative nominating committee would give the governor a list of names to choose from. The House bill also puts restrictions on the panel by barring behind-the-scenes communications between commissioners and “interested parties,” something intended to keep regulators and industry lobbyists or representatives from getting too cozy.
The commission would have broad authority to approve permits and licenses for pari-mutuel wagering, card rooms and slot machines and also sign off on relocations or conversions of permits. The commission would oversee the Department of Gaming Enforcement, which would have the ability to use the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Legislature, which paid $400,000 for a gambling study, is considering changes to the gambling laws as a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is slated to sunset next year. Gov. Rick Scott, who is in control of negotiations with the tribe, has not said whether he will wrap up a new deal in time for lawmakers to sign off on it before the session wraps up on May 2.
“We create a strong gaming commission, clean up significant and glaring loopholes in current law, and respect the governor’s role in negotiating a compact,” Schenck said in a prepared statement. “The House also has a proposed constitutional amendment that will provide Floridians with the authority to decide future gaming expansion.”
The House plan would also do away with pari-mutuel permits that have not been used for the past two years, eliminating 10 dormant permits, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation website.
Both the House and Senate plans would reorganize current gambling laws, but the Senate proposal (SB 7052) would allow for two casinos—one each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties—as long as local voters approve. The casinos could offer slots and blackjack along with roulette and craps. Casino operators would pay $125 million to apply for the licenses, with the money refunded to losing bidders. The casinos would pay annual $5 million license fees, and games would be taxed at 35 percent, the same rate that “racinos” in Miami-Dade and Broward currently pay on slot machines.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, insists his chamber will not pass any gambling measures unless Scott renegotiates a deal with the Seminole Tribe. Weatherford also wants any changes approved this year to be subject to a statewide referendum and require 60 percent approval for passage.
Hours before the House released its plan, the Senate Gaming Committee reviewed its far more ambitious measure. Committee Chairman Garrett Richter said the panel would take up the three-bill gambling package along with amendments to the bills in two weeks.
“It’s kind of like a balloon,” said Richter, R-Naples. “We’ll put it up in the air and the wind will blow it one direction or another.”