The highly anticipated Florida gambling legislation was at risk after being postponed a couple of weeks ago. Now, the Bill is added to the Commerce Committee agenda for Monday, giving hope for renewing the Compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
On Sunday, the General Bill HB7076 introduced by Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee and Chair Mike LaRosa was added to the Commerce Committee agenda. It was filed on January 30 and referred to the Committee on February 6 but it was postponed when legislators made gun control and school safety a priority for this legislative session as a response to the February 14 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. The new Bill is seen as rather conservative, giving the Seminole Tribe of Florida the same exclusive rights to offer slot machines and blackjack games as it currently has.
If approved, the House gambling Bill will provide the State with a guaranteed minimum of $3 billion over the next seven years, as the Compact with the tribe detailed within it determines a revenue sharing arrangement between the two parties. It will also give one-third of the Seminoles revenues to schools serving students from low-income families, also known as the Hope schools. In addition, the Tribe will make an annual donation to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gaming in an amount not less than $250,000 per facility.
Pari-mutuel facilities in the state will not be allowed to offer the so-called “designated player games” which resemble a hybrid of poker and blackjack. The tribe has rejected this type of games for a long time and even sued the State claiming that they were too similar to blackjack which effectively violates the exclusive rights of the Seminole. While the House wishes to prohibit designated player games, the Senate wants to allow them with its own piece of legislation (SB840). It was proposed by Regulated Industries Committee chair Travis Hutson who filed a 90-page amendment to the current Bill.
Florida House and Senate Fight over Gambling Legislation
On February 12, the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved the Hutson Bill, which allows pari-mutuels to offer designated player games. The proposals regarding the designated player games are not the only thing the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives do not agree on.
The House Bill does not mention decoupling, while the Senate allows it – this is the idea that in order to be able to offer gambling services (such as card games or slots), dog tracks will no longer be required to offer live greyhound racing. Of course, there is a great opposition from greyhound owners and breeders.
The Senate Bill also allows for the legalization of fantasy sports websites, while also extending the tribal monopoly to offering blackjack and roulette. But that is not all, as there, in fact, several gambling-related House Bills, including HB233 which exempts fantasy contests from certain regulations.
It was approved by the Commerce Committee and the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee and is now before the House Ways & Means Committee. On the other hand, SB840 still remains in the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to some experts, the proposed legislation, in all its forms, will not only secure the Seminole monopoly in the state but will also restrain the growth and development of the gambling industry in Florida.