Second FL Bill Leaves Out Racetracks

Another bill in Florida offers no added gaming or tax breaks for racetracks.

Members of the Florida House of Representatives March 24 released a draft of a bill that would require the Seminole Tribe of Florida to remove blackjack and baccarat tables from its casinos. The proposal would permit the Seminoles to keep the Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines they began installing at their Florida casinos last summer.

The proposal, regarded as the House leadership’s plan for 2009 gaming legislation, would not permit any new gaming products for Florida’s Thoroughbred tracks and other pari-mutuels, and would not offer tax cuts for pari-mutuel casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Those are the only Florida counties in which pari-mutuels can have casinos, with Class III Las Vegas-style slots. Gulfstream Park has a casino, and Calder Race Course is considering constructing one.

Earlier March 24, Republican Sen. Dennis Jones from the St. Petersburg suburb of Seminole, introduced two bills that would permit the Seminoles to keep blackjack and baccarat, and add roulette and craps tables. Jones’ bills also would permit Miami-Dade and Broward casinos to have blackjack and baccarat, and cut the state tax on their slot machine revenues from 50% to 35%.

Jones, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, also would authorize slot machine-like video lottery terminals for Tampa Bay Downs and 18 other pari-mutuels outside Miami-Dade and Broward. In interviews with The Blood-Horse, Jones has said he hopes expanded gaming products would produce revenue that would help Florida in reducing projected budget deficits.

It is anticipated Rep. Bill Galvano, the House’s designated point man on gaming issues, will introduce a gaming bill on or before March 27. The Florida legislature will end its two-month regular session May 1.

The debate on gaming centers on the Seminole Tribe’s seven casinos, including three that since last year have become the only Florida casinos with blackjack and baccarat. In November 2007, the Seminoles and Gov. Charlie Crist signed a compact that permitted the tribe to offer those games and upgrade from Class II to Class III slots. In return, the Seminoles began paying the state a portion of their gaming revenue, including $100 million last year.

In July 2007, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that the compact was illegal. The court said Crist exceeded his authority by permitting gaming activity, namely blackjack and baccarat. The Seminoles, a sovereign nation, have continued to operate those table games.

Officials at several racetracks and jai-alai frontons have presented legislators with reports indicating the Seminole expansion of products has led to lower on-site and simulcast wagering and poker room play at some pari-mutuels.

Since the start of the legislative session, officials at some pari-mutuels have expected Senate and House leaders to introduce widely divergent bills. One observer said Jones has “put everything out on the table,” and set the stage for debates on a possible compromise with anti-gambling leaders of the House.