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The House Gambling Plan Is Out Of The Gate

Erich Martin

Lawmakers in the Florida House held a first round of discussions on their gambling legislation Tuesday. The measure takes a hard line against any moves that might be seen as a gambling expansion.

The House version of a gambling plan, for the most part, hold the status quo. Tourism and Gambling Control Subcommittee Chairman Mike La Rosa is carrying the measure.

“It authorizes no new games authorized or contemplated within the bill.  The Seminole Tribe would be able to keep black jack for 20 years at its existing five facilities. It limits the Florida Lottery to its existing types of games. It does have revenue sharing in the compact with the Seminole Tribe to pay $19.5 million. Until a new compact is ultimately finalized, it guarantees $3-billion dollars over seven years,” La Rosa said.

Part of maintaining that status quo is maintaining rules that require pari-mutuels to hold a certain number of races in order continue offering other types of games, like Poker. Under his bill, changing that, La Rosa says, would impact the state’s agreement, or compact, with the tribe and put the state at risk of losing billions of dollars.

“There would be more to consider when considering decoupling.”

Decoupling is shorthand for letting a pari-mutuel stop holding races but continue offering other games. Lawmakers have been debating efforts to allow decoupling for years. Many raise concerns about treatment of the animals and point out racing is outdated and often a money-suck for the pari-mutuels. But the efforts have largely failed under pressure from the horse and dog industries. Tom Ventura is the president of the Ocala Breeders Sales Company. He says decoupling could, in his words “devastate” the Florida horse industry. He says beyond racing there are trainers, breeders and companies like his that auction off horses and sell feed. Lantana Democratic Representative Al Jacquet pressed Ventura on the issue during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“Am I correct in understanding what you were saying that it doesn’t matter if these business owners are not making a profit,” Jacquet said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re losing because the state of Florida should have horses racing and because 10-percent of that 1.1 billion is here in Florida, they should sacrifice their own individual businesses and their families to make sure that we have horses in Florida. Is that correct?”

Coral Springs Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz says the current rule doesn’t fit with Florida’s typical efforts to be business friendly.

“The ideas that we tell businesses, ‘you must run your business like it’s 1998, like that was somehow a banner year, and if you don’t you’re going to cost the state $300-million in revenue is completely ridiculous.”

La Rosa says he recognizes the bill isn’t perfect, but says it is good the conversation has started and he looks forward continuing those talks in the House and with the Senate.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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