Republican caucus leader Dana Young introduced a bill into the House Monday (HB 1233 “The Gaming Control Act of 2015”) that would make wide sweeping changes to the gambling environment in Florida. Among the provisions were articles allowing two mega-resorts, such as Genting’s proposed Resorts World Miami, at a minimum cost to build of at least $2 billion each not counting land acquisition. The casinos would also pay a $175 million a year fee plus all state and local taxes generated from resort business.
The bill is omnibus and includes so many variables that it is hard to imagine it passing, even though it did come from the House where another bill died in 2012. It must still pass the Senate before going to the Governor’s desk. The Senate is now headed up by Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando who is closely allied with interests in the central part of the state who oppose the competition that expanded gambling would bring to their resorts.
There is also the question of the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole tribe who own and run several casinos in the state including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Fort Lauderdale and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. The current agreement allowing blackjack and other card games at their casinos expires July 31 and would be rendered moot were their exclusive rights to those games usurped. The games currently bring in over $200 million a year. Some analysts predict that the tribe could successfully argue, as a federal matter, that they can not be barred from providing casino table games if they are authorized elsewhere in the state and would not have to tender any revenues to Florida.
If the Seminoles were no longer obligated to share revenue with the state they could conceivably use that money for marketing and player incentives. The tribe has become an international gaming powerhouse after their purchase of the Hard Rock Café brand in 2007.
The bill seems to attempt to mitigate that loss with more than proceeds from the mega resorts. Greyhound tracks could retire their racing season and keep their betting games and poker rooms. Twelve dormant pari-mutuel licenses would be surrendered. Tax incentives would be offered to North Florida dog tracks to move to the southern part of the state. Simulcast terminals would be allowed at racing venues. Many of these provisions would create revenue.
Another section of the 316 page bill establishes the creation of a statewide Gaming Control Commission, and a Department of Gaming Control to replace the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that is now administered by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
A joint resolution (HJR 1239) was also introduced by Young on Monday – voter control of gambling expansion. It’s currently unclear if this bill must be passed first or if the big casinos could lock up the competition leaving any future contenders to have to take their case to the people.
Neither bill directly limits the authority of the State of Florida to negotiate a tribal-state compact under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or to affect any existing tribal-state compact.