Revised casino bill passes first hurdle in Senate

Jan 9, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 9, 2012:

Revised casino bill passes first hurdle in Senate

By Gray Rohrer

A bill to bring three new destination casino resorts to Florida passed through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee Monday by a 7-3 vote, but the bill still faces major hurdles before it gets through the Legislature.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, overhauled her original version of SB 710 in a strike-all amendment, and the legislation now would allow existing pari-mutuels to expand their gambling operations to include banked card games and slots, provided local voters pass separate county referendums allowing slots and expanded gaming.

The new version of the bill would regulate, rather than ban Internet sweepstakes cafes. Under an amendment tacked on by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, pari-mutuels would pay a 10 percent tax on slot machines, if voters pass a referendum allowing slots. Currently, Miami-Dade and Broward counties are the only counties that have passed such a referendum, although others are considering doing so.

Bogdanoff resisted those changes, saying she preferred to ban the Internet cafes and only allow pari-mutuels to pay a 10 percent tax on slots – instead of the 35 percent they currently pay – after a destination casino resort opens in a given county, as opposed to when the bill becomes effective, as the Dean amendment calls for.

“This is what I’d like to change it to: I‘d like to say that you put a slot ballot outside of Miami-Dade and Broward county, and you put the destination resort. If the destination resort bill passes, parity kicks in. You only have two questions in any county in the state,” Bogdanoff said.

Despite the vote, those supporting the bill noted they still have concerns about the bill. Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, voted for the bill despite reservations over parity for pari-mutuels and the possible oversaturation of the gambling market in South Florida, but said that provisions requiring voters to approve a referendum allowing the destination casinos ultimately swayed her.

“I think it’s important for the people to determine what’s in their communities,” Rich said.

The bill however, still faces serious challenges. Apart from one general overview on gambling in the state, the House has not discussed the bill at all. A workshop on HB 487 is scheduled for Wednesday, however, in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee.

It also must go through the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who voted against the bill Monday. He is adamantly opposed to the legislation, but was coy about whether it could pass his committee.

“You’d have to ask the members of the committee, not me. I’m just one member,” Thrasher said after the vote. “Once it goes to the [Senate] Budget Committee, I’m sure it’ll change some more. If it passes out of there then it’ll come to our committee.”

Find this article here: