Florida Legislators Ready to Compromise on Gambling Deal

Florida’s House and Senate may hold a gaming conference next week to solve the state’s gambling issues, local media reported. The announcement comes after the state Legislature’s two houses agreed to pass their conflicting gambling bills as fast as possible.

The Senate gave on Wednesday preliminary approval to Sen. Bill Galvano’s SB 8 gambling expansion bill. The legislative piece is expected to be given the green light by the full Senate floor today.

The bill opens room for the authorization of more gambling options within the state borders. Under SB 8, the Seminole Tribe’s South Florida casinos will be allowed to add other table games aside from blackjack, pari-mutuels will be able to scrap live races in favor of player-designated tables, and eight counties that had previously approved slot machines will be allowed to install the devices at certain gaming locations.

However, the Senate’s expansion plans represent the exact opposite of what the House is calling for in relation to the future of Florida’s gambling industry. Authored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, HB 7037 would ban the addition of more slot machines at pari-mutuels and would also require those to remove player-designated games from the list of their offering.

The Seminole Tribe may once again turn into a sticking point in the state’s gambling debate. Both legislative pieces contain provisions that concern the tribe. However, neither of the two bills has so far appeased tribal officials in their attempts to negotiate what would be best for the tribe’s gambling operations.

Under SB 8, the Seminoles would be able to add roulette and craps to the games offered at their South Florida casinos, but would lose their blackjack exclusivity. Under the House legislation, the tribe would keep its blackjack and slot machines exclusivity, but would have to make payments of $3 billion to the state over a period of seven years. Tribal officials have pointed out that they would not give up on their blackjack exclusivity that easily, but that they are not willing to pay more than originally negotiated without being offered more in exchange.

Under an original compact between the Seminoles and the state, signed in 2010, tribal casinos were granted five-year exclusivity over blackjack in exchange for $2 billion in payments to the state. The tribe argued that the state violated the agreement by allowing pari-mutuels to operate player-designated games that were very much like actual blackjack. A federal judge sided with the Seminoles late last year. The state lodged an appeal in January. The case is yet to be heard.

As mentioned above, the Senate is set to vote on the gambling expansion bill today. The House Commerce Committee will too vote on HB 7037 today. The bill will then go to the full House floor. There is a huge gap between the two legislative proposals, but legislators from both houses indicated that they were ready to compromise as long as this yields positive results for the state’s gambling industry.

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