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Wilton Simpson sends outline to state senators of proposed changes to Florida’s gaming scene

by | Apr 8, 2021


Senate President Wilton Simpson is teeing up a late gaming push, releasing a memo on Wednesday that details how he wants to alter gaming regulations in the state.

In the memo sent out to his colleagues, Simpson outlined blueprints for how they will attempt to breathe life into the ongoing gaming saga, which may or may not include a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe. Governor Ron DeSantis has been in talks with the Tribe, hoping that negotiations would lead to a new agreement that would lead to significant additional revenue for the state.

“As you know, for the last several months, the Senate has been working closely with Governor DeSantis to update Florida’s Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and to find new ways to strengthen the State’s relationship with existing pari-mutuel operators,” Simpson said. “While ongoing negotiations with the Seminole Tribe have been productive and will continue, as we move into the final weeks of session, I would like to move forward with committee review of two key issues unrelated to the Compact.”

Despite rumblings that 2021 might bring an expansion of gaming, including sports betting, to Florida a deal between key parties has not been made. As it stands, the Seminole Tribe still looms large in Florida’s gambling scene. For years, the group had compact with the state granting them exclusivity for certain types of gambling, including slots, roulette, blackjack, and similar table games. But in 2019, the Seminoles successfully claimed in court the state’s failure to install “a mechanism to shut down illegal banked card games” at some competing casinos violated the compact, and it was not renewed in 2019, costing the state about $350 million per year.

Simpson went on to detail his plan, saying that three gaming bills would see their debut in the Senate next Monday to discuss ways to move forward with the controversial matter. Two key issues unrelated to the Compact will be on the table, 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.

A related bill would (SB 7078) would keep any criminal investigation regarding the newly formed Gaming Control Commission out of public records.

“The Committee will consider a proposed bill to create a five member Gaming Control Commission with law enforcement authority over gaming laws. The Commission will be comprised of five members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate,” Simpson said. “Responsible regulation is central to gaming, and I believe, as with other industries, such regulation should be reviewed and updated regularly. Regulation of gaming and enforcement of laws against illegal gaming not only protects the public, but the integrity of the industry.”

The Senate President says he believes the gaming commission will bring ‘essential’ regulation to gaming, serving as a solid foundation that will help establish confidence among Floridians towards the gaming industry.

“In my view, regulation assures patrons that the games are fair and provides Floridians security that these businesses are operating responsibly in their communities. This oversight is key to protecting the legacy pari-mutuel businesses that have been a part of Florida’s economy for decades,” Simpson added. “Appropriate regulatory controls build public confidence and lead to a stronger gaming industry that can spur economic growth that benefits the businesses and our state. An independent Gaming Control Commission is essential to this effort.”

Simpson is also eyeing the decoupling of greyhound racing, jai alai, and horse racing from state parimutuels through another measure (SB 7080), adding that the gaming industry has evolved with many permitholders continuing to move away from costly provisions that require certain levels of racing in order to facilitate more lucrative forms of gambling.

“With the passage of Amendment 13 in 2018, decoupling has already occurred in our state as dog tracks ended live racing. As the gaming industry has evolved, pari-mutuel permitholders have expressed an interest in removing antiquated provisions of law that require a certain level of live racing or competition in order to offer other authorized forms of gaming entertainment,” Simpson went on to say. “The Committee will consider legislation that provides for decoupling of jai alai, harness, and quarter horse racing, as well as conform the statutes to the constitutional prohibition on greyhound racing.”

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is set to hear the proposed committee bills on April 12 at 3 p.m.

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