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House Proposes Major Changes While Senate Hits The Breaks On Gaming Legislation

Michal Parzuchowski

With time running out, lawmakers in the House are proposing gaming changes some say could send negotiations with the Seminole Tribe back to the start.

Florida House member Jose Felix Diaz represented his chamber during compact negotiations with the Seminole Indian tribe. His committee, Regulated Industries, workshopped and passed the chamber’s initial gaming legislation. But since then, Diaz says the measure has changed. He spoke about a proposed committee substitute Monday during a Tax and Finance committee meeting. Diaz says the new measure makes several changes including

“A change to the compact which will clarify how and where an existing Seminole facility can be relocated to another location on the same reservation. A change to the definition of live table games, which will clarify which wheel games will be played at tribe facilities. Inclusion of a Fantasy Sports provision, which will provide clarification in the compact itself,” Diaz says.

Diaz says the measure also provides additional slot machine licenses, which could go to communities like Gretna in Gadsden County, where there is already a pari-mutuel and citizens have held a referendum vote supporting the addition of slots.

But Diaz says many of the changes included in the bill will require a renegotiation of the gaming agreement between the state and Seminole Tribe.

“After months of having negotiated the compact, I know that some of these will be easy fixes, while others will be much, much more difficult to accommodate,” Diaz says.

And Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), who helped author the changes, agrees with Diaz that many of the issues will require Tribe approval. But he says he sees a simple solution for that.

“If these provisions are adopted and ultimately signed by Governor Scott, the tribe will have the authority to agree or not agree and it will be by the Seminole Tribe’s hand, not by this legislature’s hand, not by this committee’s hand and certainly not by Chair Diaz’s hand that this deal does not get done. So we are merely putting the tools out for the tribe and Pari-mutuels to work together to achieve consensus by contract,” Gaetz says.

Gaetz admits the measure includes significant changes, but he says those modifications are important steps to get the House gaming bill closer to the Senate’s version.

“In many ways this is our love note to the Senate, our plea that all of the work that Chair Diaz has done, that all of the work that our tribal partners have done, that all of the work of this committee will not go for not. But that we are saying in good faith to our partners in the Florida Senate, to Chairman Lee, to the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that we are open to working with you in a bipartisan, bicameral way that we are open to working with you and not just be a figure of dysfunction and discord,” Gaetz says.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the Appropriations committee had been expected to take up that chamber’s gaming legislation Tuesday. But Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) announced at the beginning of the meeting plans had changed.

“We will not be taking up either bill relating to gaming today. Neither of those issues will come before the committee today. They will be temporarily postponed and we will see whether they show back up on the agenda on Thursday or not,” Lee says.

Lee’s committee is the final committee standing between the Senate’s gaming legislation and the floor.