FL Lawmakers to Review Many Gaming Scenarios

The Senate Committee on Gaming held a preliminary hearing Sept. 23.

The Florida Senate Committee on Gaming was told Sept. 23 it will review multiple scenarios prepared by a consultant in regard to the possible expansion of gambling in the state.

The first part of a study and analysis by Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey provided an overview of Florida gambling that covered tribal and racetrack casinos and pari-mutuel wagering, among other offerings. The second and third parts will assess potential changes in regulation, possible expansion, and the relationship between gaming and the communities that offer it.

"The study is unbiased and balanced," said John Guthrie, staff director for the Senate committee. "The report also recognizes that gaming is controversial."

Earlier in September representatives of horsemen and breeders questioned the accuracy of some information in the first phase of the study regarding pari-mutuel facilities. They also noted the economic impact of horse and dog racing, as well as related agricultural activities, wasn't addressed in the Spectrum Gaming report.

Guthrie reviewed statistics in the report that indicate the three Thoroughbred tracks in the state–Calder Casino & Race Course, Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs–account for 61% of total pari-mutuel handle in the state, and combined produce a $10.6 million annual profit. The stats show 14 Greyhound tracks lost about $35 million last year, while Isle of Capri and Pompano Park, a harness track, and six jai-alai frontons lost a similar amount.

Of the scenarios to be discussed by Spectrum Gaming, five of 10 are directly tied to pari-mutuel facilities, some of which have Class 3 slot machines, poker rooms, or both.

Guthrie said the scenarios include the "decoupling" of live racing and gaming, meaning live racing wouldn't be necessary to possess a gaming license; a change in tax rates at racetrack casinos; additional slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and relaxation of regulations on existing slots facilities in those counties; allowing other pari-mutuel outlets to have slots; and permitted pari-mutuel facilities to add table games.

Republican Sen. Garrett Richter, who chairs the gaming committee, said the initial information is designed to offer a base line. "We will absolutely not be able to state that we didn't have enough information to make a decision," he said.

Other committee members said they want more information on gaming in other states, as well as details on how gaming is regulated in those jurisdictions. Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis said she wants the committee to delve into full-card simulcasts at tracks, and where the revenue goes.

"Horsemen were pleased to hear today that the Senate has acknowledged the substantial contribution of Florida's horse racing industry," Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Kent Stirling said in a release sent after the hearing. "Given the upcoming pari-mutuel rule hearings (in October), we are especially interested in the regulatory 'best practices' recommended by the Spectrum Gaming study."

Public meetings on the gaming study will be held in Coconut Creek, Lakeland, Pensacola, and Jacksonville from Oct. 23-Nov. 15. Margolis and Democratic Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, vice chair of the committee, expressed concern no hearing was scheduled for Miami-Dade, which has extensive regulated gambling and a long history of pari-mutuel wagering.

"If at the conclusion of the (scheduled) hearings we feel we have not received enough meaningful input, we will look at that," Richter said.