Expansion of Slots, VLTs Considered by Florida Legislature

Video gambling machines similar to slot machines could be installed at several dog and horse tracks around Florida, with the state's share of profits going toward a reduction in property taxes, under a bill approved Monday by a House council.
Called video lottery terminals and based on the game of bingo, the machines could raise an estimated $1 billion for the state, and would be used to reduce property taxes by lowering the amount local governments have to pay toward school costs.

The machines are the same type now used in Seminole and Miccosukee Indian casinos around Florida, but not the Las Vegas-style slots that voters allowed into Broward County pari-mutuel facilities, including Gulfstream Park.

The proposal comes during the final week of the annual 60-day legislative session as lawmakers try to find a way to lower property taxes. It was tacked onto a bill (HB 1551) related to lottery patents. The House Environment & Natural Resources Council approved the measure 12-2 even though it barely had time to review the 26-page amendment filed by Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, just before the meeting began.

Rep. Rich Glorioso said he didn't like the bill, but he voted for it because he wanted to give the entire House a chance to debate it.

"I believe any (decision) this large and of this magnitude needs to be made by the entire floor," said Glorioso, R-Plant City.

Bill sponsor David Rivera, R-Miami, said he supported the idea because it would help pari-mutuels that were at a competitive disadvantage with Indian casinos while also helping to lower property taxes.

It would allow the machines in pari-mutuel facilities within 40 miles of existing Indian casinos or in counties with more than 800,000 people that also have an Indian casino. Unlike Las Vegas-style slots, in which gamblers bet against the machine, the video lottery machines are electronically tied into each other and gamblers are betting against each other to win jackpots.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he would have to review the bill before deciding whether he would support it.

A similar bill (SB 2434) passed the Senate on a 34-5 vote last week. It would allow the machines in all licensed pari-mutuels, which would raise an estimated $2 billion. The first $1 billion raised would go toward raising teacher salaries, with anything above that amount going to lower the local share of school spending.

A companion House bill (HB 1447), though, is stalled.

Also Monday, the full House approved a bill that would increase the number of slot machines Broward County pari-mutuels can install from 1,500 to 2,000. It also allows slot rooms to install ATMs and expand operating hours.

Gambling opponents said the Legislature shouldn't rush to loosen rules it put in place just more than a year ago.

"Just because we've got a little gambling and we're a user of this substance, doesn't mean we should OD on it," said Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa.

But bill sponsor Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, said unregulated gambling is already taking place in Indian casinos and on gambling boats that leave Florida ports and the state sees no money from it.

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