Florida lawmakers are continuing a push to get gambling legislation passed this legislative session.
House Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva says even as the House and Senate move forward with gambling legislation in their chambers, the overall negotiations are still “at the very early stages.”
“We’ve had some conversations with the tribe. We’ve let them know that it’s our hope we can get something done this year. I think the same issues that have plagued a solution in gaming in the past are a risk this year again. We’re making a legitimate effort though,” Oliva says.
Oliva says for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, that means ensuring a fair level of exclusivity. Through an agreement called a compact, the tribe gives the state part of its gambling revenue in order to secure what some have called a monopoly, but tribe representatives have raised concerns about proposals moving through the legislature that would legalize fantasy sports and give so called “referendum counties” the right to operate slot machines. That last part is a priority for Senate President Joe Negron.
“I think that we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who live in the eight counties that approved referendums including St. Lucie County, which I represent. It’s the biggest county in my district. And they had a referendum and they decided they wanted to have additional slots as part of the gaming landscape in their community and I think that needs to be given great weight,” Negron says.
The Senate gambling bill looks to take some of the bite out of those changes for the tribe by giving the Seminoles the chance to offer new types of games at tribal casinos such as craps and roulette. That’s not a part of the House bill, but Oliva says he’s not closed to the idea.
“What the president and I have said is that everything is on the table right now in the hopes that if we conference on the issue we have all the options available to us,” Oliva says.
But House speaker Richard Corcoran has warned anything that could be construed as an expansion of gambling is likely to have a difficult time passing in the House.
“The ultimate absolute definitional thing is it has to be a contraction. If it’s a contraction where a third grader can say ‘wow that’s a massive contraction of gaming. We have lessened the footprint of gaming in the state of Florida. We have protected Florida as a family friendly brand.’ If someone can make that case then I’ll look at it. But if they can’t make the case then it’s a non-starter,” Corcoran says.
But Corcoran says he would really like to see the gambling issue be put to bed this year.
“Every single year it seems like there has been a battle of some sort of expansion of gaming. And as a conservative that’s something I don’t necessarily support at all. I would love for it to be a legacy that for the people that come after me, they don’t have to come here and fight and defend Florida and the great brand that we are,” Corcoran says.
And Corcoran is not the only one hoping gambling legislation will pass this year. Lawmakers are saying this session may be their last chance to legislate gambling since a constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot this November that would give the public a say in all future casino gambling decisions. Meanwhile, advocates of the amendment have just released an ad urging lawmakers to take a step back leave things as they are until the November vote.