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Politics / Issues

Lawmakers Weigh Gambling Reform

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Gambling in Florida appears to be on something of a precipice. Most lawmakers say they’d like to see an overall reduction, but as lawmakers look at pushing gaming legislation first one way and then the other, activists say each move could lead to a massive expansion.

Florida is one of the largest gaming states in the country – depending on who you ask. John Sowinski is president of the group No Casinos.

"That includes lottery and it does not include a prorated basis for population. We are the third largest state in America and according to statistics for the American Gaming Association we are 23rd out of 23 states in terms of per capita casino wagering in Florida," Sowinski says.

Sowinski is arguing against a major gambling overhaul bill filed by Rep. Dana Young (R-Tampa). He calls the measure the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history. On the other hand, Young argues the measure would lead to an unprecedented reduction in the state’s gambling footprint.

“Any dormant permits would revert back to the state and could not be reissued. Currently there are 12. We would end portability of existing permits. So concerns that many members have raised of people moving permits would end with this bill. It would require applicants of the two destination resort licenses to acquire existing active pari-mutuel permits based upon a point system, and surrender these permits to the state,” Young says. 

Young’s bill includes plans for two destination resort casinos. Young says that means if destination resort casinos are approved they’d be required to buy licenses of between four and 10 pari-mutuels, which would stop any gaming there. The measure would also stop any new gaming permits from being issued, with the exception of those needed for the resort casinos.  

At issue is whether to extend the state’s agreement, or compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe. A part of the compact that gives the tribe exclusive rights to offer bank card games like blackjack is set to expire soon. Some say Young’s plan could negate the compact but she claims it would bring the state more money than it’s getting now from its agreement with the Seminoles. Young says each of the Destination Resort Casinos would be required to pay a minimum of $175-million in annual taxes. 

“The destination resort would pay state and local taxes for all operations of the resort and we estimate that there would be significantly more revenue than the $255 million currently obtained by the state from Indian gaming,” Young says.

But Mark Dunbar, who represents several members of the gaming industry including Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, says allowing the compact to expire, or passing legislation that would void the exclusivity agreements in the compact could spell trouble for the groups he represents. 

"Re-upping the Seminole Compact is something you should strongly consider because it creates the market certainly we're looking for. Because here's the reality: If you do not continue the Seminole gaming compact, the 800-pound gorilla that Gulfstream has to compete with in the market place will become a 1200-pound gorilla. Very simple. The implicit competitive advantage that they have will increase by 33 percent. They will go from being taxed at implicit competitive advantage that they have will increase by 33 percent. They will go from being taxed at 12 percent to being taxed at zero. And make no mistake, they will continue to deal blackjack," Dunbar says.

The Seminole Indians do not pay taxes for their current gambling operations. But they do share their profits with the state through a revenue sharing agreement under the compact. What Dunbar means is if the blackjack portion of the compact isn’t extended, the Seminoles would no longer be required to share the revenue they gained from bank card games. Under the agreement if the compact isn’t extended, the tribe would have a short amount of time to stop its card games. But if the card games are allowed in other parts of the state, such as the proposed destination resort casinos, the tribe could continue the games as well.

Meanwhile, increasing protections for racing greyhounds, or decouplingpari-mutuels and racetracks is also playing a major role in the state’s gaming conversation.

Copyright 2015 WFSU-FM.

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