Fl. Legislature Considers Expanded Gambling


Fl. Legislature
Considers Expanded Gambling

(Source: Mardi Gras Casino) TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) — As the Legislature considers several
bills that would alter or even expand gambling in Florida, the chairman of a key
House panel said Tuesday the states need to acknowledge its status as a gaming
state and find a more effective way to regulate the industry.

The House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee heard
three gaming bills Tuesday, including a workshop on a measure by Rep. Erik
Fresen, R-Miami that would allow new “destination resorts” to operate in the
state. That came less than a week after the Senate Regulated Industries
Committee approved bills easing restrictions on card games at dog tracks and
allowing intrastate Internet poker.

House Business and Consumer Affairs Chairman Esteban Bovo,
R-Hialeah, said the focus on gaming issues this year wasn’t necessarily unusual,
but did indicate an increasing realization on the part of lawmakers.

“We as a committee, and I think as a state, are now starting
to come to grips with the reality that we are a gaming state,” Bovo said. “And
as much as we probably have tried to ignore that and maybe bury our head in the
sands, the reality is that it’s here.”

Bovo said the state has for decades taken a “parochial”
approach to gaming, with lawmakers from districts with pari-mutuels or other
gaming outlets trying to get an advantage for local interests or shield them
from damage instead of taking a broader view of the issues involved.

“I think the state would probably be best served at the end of
the day looking at a gaming commission bill, a la Pennsylvania, a la Nevada,
that has the best interests of the state in mind and that could do this where
you could handle issues of the breeders, you could handle issues of the
thoroughbreds, the trainers — all the components,” Bovo said.

Anti-gambling lawmakers might also prefer the idea of a
commission, Bovo said, since it would allow them to avoid voting on gaming
issues.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, has sponsored a measure that
would create a gaming commission, but the bill has no House counterpart. Bovo
said a portion of Fresen’s bill, which creates the Destination Resort
Commission, could be the foundation for a broader gaming commission.

There are substantial differences between the Senate
destiny-resort bills, which were temporarily postponed at a separate meeting
Tuesday, and the House measure, Fresen said after the meeting. He said his
measure would allow more diverse business models than the Senate counterpart,
sponsored by Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, and wouldn’t include a limit on how
close the destination resorts can be to each other.

“We’re not trying to essentially artificially rig the market
when the market may otherwise want to have more than one in a certain location,”
Fresen said.

Scott was noncommittal Tuesday when asked about the
destination-resort bills, saying only that he would review them.

“My position all along is, we have gaming in our state,” Scott
said. “It’s a local issue and I think that’s the way we should
continue.”

Meanwhile, Bovo’s committee approved on a 15-1 vote a measure
that would allow dog tracks to offer card rooms even if they no longer run a
full schedule of greyhound races.

The measure (HB 1145) is pushed by a coalition of pari-mutuels
who want to be freed from the dog-racing requirement and animal-rights advocates
who see the bill as a new blow to an industry that is already beginning to lose
popularity.

Rep. Dana Young, the Tampa Democrat who sponsored the measure,
said tax receipts from dog racing have dropped so much that the state is
“reaching the point where it may cost more … to regulate this industry than we
collect in taxes.”

Christine Dorchak, president of anti-racing group GREY2K USA,
said Arizona and Iowa have taken similar steps with greyhound tracks there in
recent years.

“It will not only save the state money from regulating this
dying industry, it will save greyhounds,” she said.

But greyhound breeders have fiercely opposed the measure,
saying it would cost the state hundreds of jobs and mark a massive change to
state policy, which allowed other types of gambling only as a side business for
dog tracks.

“If the pari-mutuels want to change that, they need to be
honest with your constituents and go home and run a referendum,” said Jack Cory,
a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders,
owners, kennel operators and others who want to keep the racing
going.

Even some of those who supported the measure questioned the
about-face.

“I guess I’m kind of stuck on the fact that these places
opened up as dog tracks,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who voted
for the bill.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this
report.

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