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Gambling Bills Advance But Distance Remains

Ted Murphy
Credit Ted Murphy

A gambling overhaul bill passed through the full Florida Senate Thursday. Meanwhile the House bill is heading for that chamber’s floor. While leaders say it’s been years since a gambling bill has advanced so far through the process, others point out there’s a long way left to go.

The failure to act on a gambling measure this year is not an option. That’s according to Senator Bill Galvano, who is shepherding his chamber’s gaming proposal through the process.

We cannot continue to hemorrhage the dollars that we have been hemorrhaging that will go the healthcare, education, infrastructure at both the state and local level,” Galvano said.

Galvano says it’s been years since a gambling bill has been presented on the floor. And says the steps taken by the Senate are a good indication. But there are plenty of hurdles left before a new gambling plan becomes law.

“I can’t tell you if we’ll ultimately reach a full resolution this session. But I can tell you that the major interests and the people who would be part of this resolution, such as the Florida House, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Governor’s office, they also understand that at this point inaction is not an option,” Galvano said.

At play are a number of factors, including the vast differences between the House and Senate proposals. Democratic Representtive Joe Geller pointed out a few differences during a recent committee discussion.

“We’ve done some things in this bill that we should not. I’m not going to take the time to get into all of those but certainly a provision that say that any decoupling for the life of the compact for 20 years would be considered a violation of that compact. That’s ill advised,” Geller said.

While the Senate measure supports a plan giving pari-mutuels the option to stop holding regular live events and races while continuing to offer card games like Poker, the House plan does not. In fact it bars that plan, called decoupling, for the next 20 years by making it a violation of the state’s gambling agreement, or compact, with the Seminole Tribe. And that’s another difference. The Senate is pushing for a compact similar to one proposed by the tribe and governor last year. But the House would essentially extend the current compact. Representative Mike La Rosa is sponsoring the House bill.

Of course we’ve got an existing compact with the Seminole Tribe and we are trying to get the best  deal we feel is possible for our tax payers to ultimately go into our revenue source,” La Rosa said.

La Rosa says the tribe has raised some concerns about the House plan, but he thinks it’s the best deal for Florida.

One other factor impacting the state’s gambling plan is the courts. A number of cases are moving through the system now that could have far reaching implications for the state. That’s part of the reason Galvano says action is required now. He says he wants lawmakers to keep the authority for making gambling decisions rather than letting the courts decide.

“I won’t walk away from a deal unless we’ve resolved all of these pending issues. And they present ambiguity not just for the state of Florida but also for the Seminole Tribe as well,” Galvano said.

Galvano is hopeful a plan can be passed that will benefit the state while creating predictability and stability within the industry.

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