Florida House Gambling Bill Passes Key Committee Vote

A gambling bill passed a Florida House Committee on Tuesday after members voted 11-7 in the affirmative. Sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, the piece basically keeps the current gambling status quo in the state, very much unlike a separate legislation currently being considered in the Senate that calls for a massive gambling expansion.

HB 7037 was introduced in mid-February and cleared the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee shortly after. Here it is important to note that Rep. La Rosa chairs said subcommittee. The legislative piece is next headed to the Commerce Committee. If it clears that hurdle, too, it will then appear before the full House floor.

Among other things, the bill proposes a solution to an almost two-year conflict between the state and the Seminole Tribe, which operates a number of casinos across Florida. Under a 2010 compact, the tribe was to operate blackjack exclusively for a period of five years. The five-year period expired in the summer 2015, but the Seminoles kept blackjack tables at the casinos, arguing that Florida had violated its part of the contract by allowing pari-mutuels to offer table games that were very similar to blackjack.

The tribe and the state have been suing each other since then and despite several attempts, no solution to the problem has been found. Under the House bill, the Seminole Tribe would be allowed monopoly over the provision of blackjack, but will have to pay $3 billion in contributions to the state for a period of seven years.

The tribe had to pay a considerably smaller sum during the first five-year exclusivity period. Although HB 7037 promises the Seminoles something they have long been asking for, tribal officials has recently said that the legislative piece in its current form is not of any interest to them.

The tribe was also not very happy about the Senate gambling bill that was introduced earlier this year. Unlike its House counterpart, SB 8 gives the Seminoles the right to add more table games, including roulette and craps, but does not contain an exclusivity offer.

Aside from the long-standing tribal issue, HB 7037 also contains provisions that would bar pari-mutuel facilities from scrapping horse and dog racing events in favor of casino operations, and would prevent the addition of slot machines at designated counties where that had been approved with a countywide vote. The Senate bill, on the other hand, calls for that exact type of gambling expansion across the state.

The House bill needs to pass one more committee before reaching the full floor. If that happens, it means that the Florida Legislature will have two clashing proposals to consider and to come up with the best possible solution to the Seminole issue and for the state’s gambling industry. Lawmakers will have up until May, when the legislative session ends, to make the best of the current situation.

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