Senate places gaming structure on the table as gambling talks continue

by | Apr 12, 2021

The Senate Committee on Regulated Industries moved forward on Monday with a trio of bills that will lay the foundation for gaming regulations in Florida as officials continue to negotiate ways to expand Florida’s gambling scene.

Amid ongoing talks with the Seminole Tribe regarding a gambling deal, Florida lawmakers in the Senate made a late gaming push, fast-tracking measures that would create gaming oversight and strip requirements to pari-mutuel facilities. The proposals, outlined last weekend in a memo sent out by Senate President Wilton Simpson, were favorably reported as committee bills, teeing a potential showdown this session that could see Florida modernize the gaming landscape.

Three key issues unrelated to Florida’s Compact with the Seminole Tribe were on the table during today’s meeting, with one of the components on the agenda being a bill (SPB 7076) that would set up a five-member Gaming Control Commission — something Florida has attempted to implement for years. The bill, however, would not decouple thoroughbred agribusiness with live racing. A related bill (SB 7078) would keep any criminal investigation regarding the newly formed Gaming Control Commission out of public records.

The other legislation (SPB 7080) eyes the decoupling of greyhound racing, jai alai, and horse racing from state parimutuels as many permit holders continue to move away from costly provisions that require certain levels of racing in order to facilitate more lucrative forms of gambling.

State Senator Travis Hutson outlined the bills during today’s committee, giving a brief overview of the ongoing gaming saga. Hutson noted that he, along with GOP leadership, has been discussing ways to land a gaming deal during the 2021 Legislative Session. Hutson added that Governor Ron DeSantis was ‘actively’ trying to broker an agreement with stakeholders that would lead to significant additional revenue for the state, something that the legislature has been unable to accomplish in recent years.

“As it stands today, the Governor is trying to finalize negotiations with all stakeholders,” Hutson said during the committee, noting meetings that have taken place in the past. “He’s having negotiations as we speak.”

While the St. Johns Republican wouldn’t say if the ongoing parley would bear fruit, he did tease that today’s bills would operate as a type of fail-safe in case discussions were to cool off.

“We believe should a compact not get done, there are a couple of issues that you will see in front of us today that we would like to try and resolve and put these issues to rest,” he added.

Hutson also stated that the proposed measures would double as a bedrock for the future of gaming in the state after Democratic Senator Darryl Rouson asked if the legislation would operate as a ‘structure to gaming’ if a compact is eventually reached.

“That is correct,” Hutson affirmed, before signaling the importance of a gaming commission in the event that no deal is reached. “Should we not have a new compact in place, anything that you see operating outside of state law — for example, the internet cafes that we see pop up everywhere — they would have the ability to go in and enforce that and shut those down.”

While today’s agenda breezed unanimously through the Regulated Industries committee, opponents on hand pushed back, claiming that decoupling would create an ‘uneven playing field’ and would be detrimental to families that rely heavily on thoroughbred and harness racing.

Today’s Senate bills do not address issues such as sports betting.

This is an ongoing story. Please check back for updates.

1 Comment

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