Julie Brown will lead new Florida gaming commission

by | Dec 23, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday tapped Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Brown to lead a newly created commission that will oversee gambling in Florida and appointed a Tampa lawyer to replace Brown as head of the state regulatory agency.

DeSantis also filled two other slots on the Gaming Control Commission, appointing Michael Yaworsky as vice chairman and placing Charles Drago on the five-member panel. The governor has until Jan. 1 to make the other two appointments, with all of the positions requiring confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The governor named Melanie Griffin, a lawyer at the Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick firm, to take over as head of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation after Brown’s exit. Griffin is the owner of a company that “provides speaking and professional training services and designs, manufactures and sells inspirational products and gifts,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The appointments will take effect Jan. 1, the governor’s office said.

DeSantis’ first appointments to the gambling commission rely heavily on people who have experience with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees industries such as alcohol, tobacco and — until Jan. 1 — gambling. The department also handles licensing and regulation for a wide range of professions, including barbers, cosmetologists and real estate agents.

Drago, a former Oviedo police chief, served a stint as secretary of DBPR and Yaworsky, who currently is chief of staff of the state Office of Insurance Regulation, has served as DBPR’s chief of staff.

Lawmakers created the gambling commission during a May special session, when they authorized a 30-year deal with the Seminole Tribe negotiated by DeSantis. The deal, among other things, gave the Seminoles control over sports betting in Florida and allowed the tribe to add craps and roulette at its casinos.

The gambling oversight panel was established to help persuade leery House members to sign off on the deal, known as a compact.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich last month vacated the compact, saying it violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which sets up a framework for gambling on tribal lands.

Under the law passed by the Legislature, one of the members of the gaming commission must have at least 10 years of experience in law enforcement and criminal investigations, while another must be a certified public accountant with a decade of experience in auditing and accounting. Another member must be an attorney who has practiced in Florida for at least the previous 10 years.

Brown, who served on the Public Service Commission before her appointment as DBPR secretary, has been a lawyer in Florida for more than two decades. Drago spent nearly 30 years working for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

The commissioners, who will be paid an annual salary of $131,136, will have regulatory oversight of all aspects of gambling throughout Florida, including “gaming compacts executed by the state,” according to the law.

The law also said the commission will review rules and regulations promulgated by the Seminoles for the operation of sports betting. The tribe this month stopped accepting wagers and deposits on its Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app after a Washington, D.C.-based appeals court refused to put Friedrich’s ruling on hold.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has taken heat in the past for inconsistently interpreting state gambling laws and failing to enforce alleged wrongdoing in the gambling industry.

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