State Senator Garrett Richter (R-Naples), chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, recently filed three separate bills (453 pages) that could change the scope of Florida gambling.
Essentially, he’s proposed at least two destination casinos in either/or Miami/Fort Lauderdale and creating a new gambling commission to tighten regulations on all forms of gambling, including the lottery.
The bills are the result of the $400,000 tax payer funded study to determine the future of gambling in the state.
The Florida House, where many a gambling bill has gone to die, is not quite as anxious to tackle, let alone pass, these bills. Nor is Gov. Rick Scott. Consequently the lobbyists are off to the proverbial races, chasing money and peddling influence mainly from the large, multi-national corporations both in-state and out-of-state.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Walt Disney Company immediately objected, claiming gambling increases would negatively impact their convention business. Also, vocal opponents include John Sowiniski of No Casinos, the Orlando-based opposition group along, with past and present “Legislators Opposed to Gambling” Senator Bill Nelson, former Senator and Governor Bob Graham, ex-Governor Jeb Bush and Wayne Mixon among others.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in an editorial opinion questioned the need for more gambling in a state that seems to be bursting with slots and poker, pari-mutuels and “Internet cafes.” The editorial board pointed out there is no hue and cry among the public to expand gambling, which further amplifies that legislators, their consultants, lobbyists and attorneys are using gambling expansion to help bolster their own coffers.
The issue will come down to the final day, no doubt, and some serious brokering and horse trading that is the Tallahassee formula, which will more than likely produce a couple of new gambling entities.
Our best guess is a new gaming/gambling commission will be formed, the two destination casinos will also be approved; and, future expansion will require a state-wide referendum. There’s some hint legislators may also try again for stricter regulation on the so called “Internet cafes.”
We will not be surprised if the situation spills into a special session in mid-summer (when voters are far less interested). The issue of the Seminole Tribal Compact renewal by the governor will also be a major missile in the overall trajectory of the gambling expansion.
Odds N’Ends: Saying the team is losing in excess of $20 million annually, Florida NHL Panthers President Michael Yormark went in front of the Broward County Commission asking for public funds. The team is looking for additional bed tax funds to cover costs at the BB&T Center, their home. He is looking also to acquire 22 acres north of the arena to potentially build a destination casino to better compete with the nearby Seminole Hard Rock Resort and Casino.
Davie vs. Seminoles: The town of Davie, which surrounds the Seminole Reservation in Fort Lauderdale, is fighting the Tribe’s effort to place in a new federally protected trust for 10 acres adjacent to their Hard Rock Resort & Casino.
Though the tribal leadership insists the land would be designated strictly for housing, Davie leaders believe it is ultimately slated for expansion of the already thriving casino. The land was an eyesore mobile home park until recently when it was leveled and sits vacant. The issue is being reviewed by the Department of the Interior.
Café Ole? Jacksonville’s Channel 4 interviewed State Senator John Thrasher (R-District 6 NE Florida). He indicated the new versions of the “Internet cafes” may be legal and do not violate the state statute passed last year.
More than 60 of the strip mall cafes have already opened in Jacksonville alone since the statute was enacted, and they are popping up all over central and northern Florida. Kelly Mathis, the prominent J’ville attorney who masterminded the illegal operations closed last year, began a six year sentence for racketeering and money laundering.
Hialeah record: A new single-day wagering record was set this week for real American Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park, on Feb. 16. The record made that week a whopping 30 percent increase from a previous year’s high mark. The meet concluded Feb. 23.
Hialeah Park is the only licensed pari-mutuel facility offering American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)-sanctioned racing – the only legitimate quarter horse racing currently taking place in Florida.
The legendary track closed its fourth successful QH meet at the end of February with yet another increase in handle. The quarter horses allow Hialeah to have a casino and poker operation by state law.
Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson bring a combined 80 years of gaming marketing and administration experience to Gaming Today. Contact them at [email protected].