Lawmakers are pushing a pair of gambling overhaul bills forward. But with just weeks left in the legislative session, leaders admit their priorities may lie elsewhere.
This week, lawmakers are focused on a response following the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass high school in Parkland that left 17 dead. The legislature is also scrambling to find common ground on budget plans. And Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley says that leaves little time for much else.
“Between the budget and dealing with the issues of the failures of government that have come to our attention with the Parkland situation that has certainly got our attention above and beyond anything else that we’re dealing with right now,” Bradley says.
And besides, Bradley says an agreement on gambling has a ways to go.
“Gaming has its challenges independent of the circumstances we find ourselves in in that we are trying to deal with those two issues of the budget and Parkland,” Bradley says.
Bradley’s view point isn’t far off from one expressed by House Speaker Designate Jose Oliva
“A lot of our bandwidth is going to be taken up. We still have a budget to pass and obviously we have some sort of bipartisan bill that we have to pass dealing with the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas,” Oliva says.
Oliva says he’s not confident lawmakers can come to an agreement on a proposed gambling overhaul in the time that’s left this legislative session. Even so, a measure sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Representative Mike La Rosa got a hearing in the House Committee on Commerce Monday.
“Just as a highlight the bill creates a flat 20 year term extension to the Seminole Compact, it authorizes no new gaming throughout the bill. The tribe would ultimately keep black jack for 20 years at its existing five facilities. It limits the Florida lottery games to what it has,” La Rosa says.
Several major differences remain between the House and Senate plans. One has to do with so called referendum counties—or counties that have passed local referendums in favor of allowing pari-mutuels in their communities to operate slot machines. Senate President Joe Negron has said that’s a priority for him in any gambling legislation that moves forward this session.
“They had a referendum and they decided they wanted to have slots as part of the gaming landscape in their community and I think that needs to be given great weight and it’s hard for me to envision a gaming bill that could get to 21 votes in the Senate and at the same time ignore the clear direction and mandate of the voters,” Negron says.
But a provision to approve slots in referendum counties is not included in the House bill. That’s doesn’t make sense to Gretna City Manager Antonio Jefferson. Gadsden County is one of the referendum counties.
“The bill that’s before you in essence is the equivalent of doing nothing on gaming and what I mean is I watched a commercial over the weekend that said the Seminoles were investing quite a few billion dollars that was going to create 20,000 additional jobs. While I’m very happy for Floridians that are going to take advantage of that. I’m sad that in the community of Gretna and Gadsden County we’ve got a quarter of a billion dollar investment in our community that’s going to create thousands of jobs—both direct and indirect—and that’s not a consideration by this legislature,” Jefferson says.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Richard Corcoran says anything that could be considered a gambling expansion is a non-starter in his chamber. Some say this session might be the last chance for lawmakers to legislate gambling. A proposed constitutional amendment is heading for the ballot in November that would give voters control over any future changes to casino gambling.