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Politics / Issues

Push for Resort Casinos Stalls in Fl Legislature

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The push to bring Las Vegas-resort-style casinos to South Florida is stalling again this year as the Florida Legislature remains divided over what type of gambling to allow in the state.

A major gambling bill sponsored by a top House Republican that includes the casino proposal has yet to be voted on — and it may not get its first vote until sometime in April. The 60-day session ends May 1.

A House panel held a four-hour workshop Thursday on gambling. It was clear that steep divisions remain between casino backers, dog-track and horse-track owners and business groups opposed to gambling. Three years ago, a bill allowing casinos was rejected.

Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa and sponsor of the casino bill, tried to downplay the lack of movement, suggesting that "gaming bills never come up until the last couple of days of session."

Young's proposal would upend Florida's entire gambling industry. It calls for allowing two massive casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. But it would also let dog tracks end live greyhound racing and keep other types of gambling, including poker rooms. The legislation would allow slot machines to be installed at tracks located in Palm Beach and Lee counties.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said that a large majority of House members oppose the sweeping bill. He said if it was put before the entire House right now "it would be torn to shreds."

The Senate, meanwhile, has not considered any major gambling bills.

Republicans in that chamber are focusing more on striking a new deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The tribe runs several casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino just outside of Tampa.

A key part of the tribe's deal with the state — which allows them to offer blackjack — is set to expire later this year. The Seminoles have been airing television ads and engaged in a major public relations effort to persuade legislators to keep the current deal intact.

Sen. Rob Bradley, the chairman of the committee that regulates gambling, said legislators should concentrate on reaching an agreement with the tribe instead of tackling a massive overhaul of gambling laws.

"The Senate wants to do the responsible thing on behalf of the state," said Bradley, R-Fleming Island. "The responsible thing is to see if there is any progress to be made with the tribe."

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