Legislation proposed last month by Republicans in the Florida House Of Representatives that would essentially maintain the status quo in terms of the southern state’s gambling and casino markets has survived a crucial committee vote.
Known as HB 7037, the suggested measure was passed on Tuesday by the Florida House Of Representatives’ Ways And Means Committee by an 11-7 vote with Democrats opposed and will now be subjected to a ballot by the full chamber in Tallahassee.
Essentially a status quo proposal designed to replace the troubled 20-year gaming compact the state signed with the Seminole Tribe Of Florida in 2010, HB 7037 would renew this existing agreement while giving the tribe the exclusive rights to offer “banked” card games such as blackjack in Miami-Dade County and Broward County. The measure would also grant the tribe, which runs the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel And Casino Hollywood and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel And Casino Tampa along with four smaller casinos in the state, permission to offer slots at its venues located outside of southern Florida in return for agreeing to up by $75 million its annual contributions to the state to $325 million.
HB 7037, which must be passed by the Florida House Of Representatives and the Florida State Senate before it can be signed into law by Republican governor Rick Scott, would additionally ban parimutuel operations in Lee County, Brevard County, Gadsden County, Duval County, Hamilton County, Palm Beach County, St Lucie County and Washington County from offering slots while specifically earmarking the millions the state would receive from the Seminole Tribe Of Florida to three specific educational programs aimed at retaining and recruiting teachers, helping children in failing schools and enhancing higher education.
Michael LaRosa, a Republican member of the Florida House Of Representatives and Chairman of that body’s Tourism And Gaming Control Subcommittee, told the Miami Herald newspaper that HB 7037 would moreover close loopholes that have allowed “player-banked” card games to be run in poker rooms, reduce dormant parimutuel permits and repeal older provisions that could be used for unintended gaming expansions in the future.
“The bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for years to come,” LaRosa told the newspaper while revealing that HB 7037 would also explicitly ban Florida’s non-Seminole parimutuel operations from offering “banked” card games.
However, HB 7037 is at direct odds with gambling expansion legislation put forward by Florida State Senator Bill Galvano in January, which is currently awaiting a floor vote in the upper chamber after earlier clearing committee. Known as Senate Bill 8, this measure would license a pair of new slots-only casinos for Miami-Dade County and Broward County while permitting existing gambling facilities in the two southern counties to feature up to 25 blackjack tables. It would additionally allow parimutuel operations in the eight counties to offer slots while reducing the state-wide tax rate on the machines by 10% to 25%.
Most controversial, Senate Bill 8 would allow all parimutuel card rooms in the state to run “player-banked” games such as poker while boosting support for the local horseracing industry by setting aside up to $20 million a year to supplement live race purse pools. The Seminole Tribe Of Florida would moreover lose its state-wide monopoly on such card games along with the select right to run slots outside of Miami-Dade County and Broward County although it would retain slot exclusivity for the area around the city of Tampa and be given permission to offer roulette, blackjack and craps in every one of its Florida casinos in exchange for agreeing to pay the $325 million a year.
“Unfortunately, both the Florida State Senate and Florida House Of Representatives bills would require dramatic increases in the Seminole Tribe Of Florida’s payments without providing increases in the Seminole Tribe Of Florida’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments,” read a letter from Marcellus Osceola, Chairman for the Seminole Tribe Of Florida, sent to governor Scott along with Joe Negron, President for the Florida State Senate, and Florida House Of Representatives Speaker Richard Corcoran.