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Politics / Issues

Florida House Committee Approves Gambling Pact

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Ted Murphy

Lawmakers are a step closer to approving a gambling compact made between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee Tuesday advanced the compact that would expand gambling for the Seminole Tribe and for casinos in South Florida. The deal, which needs approval from the Legislature, guarantees the Seminole Tribe would pay $3 billion to the state over the next seven years.

The committee also passed an amendment proposed by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. It would shift future approval of gambling expansion to voters statewide.

"This is not about trusting or not trusting future legislatures, it's just about empowering the voters as gaming continues to expand,” Diaz said.

State Rep. John Wood, R-Lakeland, proposed a similar amendment to put the existing gambling compact to a public vote, but it was struck down.

An amendment proposed by Diaz to sever the link between casinos and horse and dog racing in South Florida also created a stir at the meeting. The amendment, which passed overwhelmingly, would get rid of the requirement that racetrack casinos have live dog or horse racing to host casino games like blackjack or poker.

A handful of horse trainers and breeders showed up to voice their concerns. Lobbyists for the greyhound industry said getting rid of the link would have a harm the industry.

Bill White, president of the Florida Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said he believes the racing industry will suffer if the compact passes as is. He also thinks getting rid of the link between casinos and horse racing will open the state up to lawsuits from the equine industry.

“A vote for de-coupling is a vote for the casinos at the expense of the horse industry,” White said.

While new gambling compact would see expanded gaming in South Florida, gambling in Central Florida would remain relatively unchanged. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa would continue to be the largest money maker for the tribe.