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Politics / Issues

Gaming Extension Bill Moves Out Of Committee But Not Without Taking On Extra Weight

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Credit Ian Murphy

A discussion to extend the state’s gaming agreement with the Seminole Indian tribe for another year got weighed down by a gaming amendment pile on during its first committee hearing Wednesday. But despite the heavy load, the measure made it through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

The state’s gaming agreement, or compact gives the Seminole Indians exclusive rights to hold certain types of gaming in Florida. In return the tribe gives the state some money through revenue sharing. A portion of that agreement is set to expire in July. It’s the piece that lets the tribe offer card games like Black Jack. Now  Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) told Florida Public Radio earlier this week he’d like to give the state another year to decide what should happen next.

“Negotiations sometimes take time, particularly when we’re dealing with a  complex issue that has such long term implications both for the state and the tribe, and right now we’re just not in a position to come to an agreement on a long term extension so therefore we need some time to develop that long term agreement,” Bradley said.

But during Wednesday’s meeting the committee’s discussion quickly turned from a simple extension to some major gaming changes – starting with this amendment from Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach).

“Basically what this amendment does is it eliminates the live racing requirement from greyhound racing and it allows simulcast and intertrack race wagering on greyhound under certain circumstances. It allows certain greyhound permit holders to obtain card room licenses and it regulates greyhound adoptions,” Sachs says.

The move would de couple greyhound racing and the other gaming activities at pari mutual facilities, letting those facilities continue gaming without being required to hold races. And Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) says it’s about time.

“If you think my generation, those born 1980 and after, it’s not going to happen. That industry is going away. And I feel bad for those who set up their lives revolving that industry, but I kind of compare it to the VCR. The people who made VCR tapes and made VCRs for a living, they had to change,” Abruzzo says.

But others like Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) says nobody is forcing those facilities to keep their doors open if they decide they’re not interested in being a dog track anymore.

“I feel like it’s a similar situation to where you have a bowling alley, we allowed them to have a liquor license, now they want to get rid of bowling and be a bar. It’s the same thing with dog tracks. Now they want to get rid of dog tracks and have a mini casino,” Stargel says.

The amendment passed. Lawmakers also accepted an amendment authored by several committee members including Abruzzo. That measure would allow slots in Palm Beach and Naples.

And Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) filed an amendment saying if greyhound tracks are decoupled, that should extend to other pari-mutuels.

Lawmakers adopted both those amendments. The bill passed with a seven to five vote. Bradley who proposed the move voted against the measure.

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