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Florida House and Senate May Call Special Session for Gaming Compact Issue

On May 4th, 2009, Florida's legislature shifted its attention to South Florida and its blackjack table as the leaders of the House and Senate finished budget issues and begin to address the most important issue left undone by the current session-the Seminole gambling compact issue.

The Senate plans to offer substantial compromise to allow gaming at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino casinos while also giving a hand to the state's pari-mutuel facilities-horse and dog racing tracks and jai-alai frontons to effectively compete with tribal gambling, according to Senator J.D. Alexander, a Republican from Lake Wales.

Alexander said that the gaming compact offers some of the most substantial revenues for Florida but balancing all those aspects and beliefs for individuals like him who are reluctant to expand gambling is something that they have to talk through. Legislators have until midnight on Friday to reach a gaming compact or they walk away from at least $288 million of Seminole gaming revenue. That's the amount that will be staying in the bank by June 30th, 2010, under a gaming compact finalized by Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole tribe but later dismissed by the state Supreme Court.

If they do not reach a final agreement, Alexander stated that legislators may have to call for a special session. To get a new gambling compact approved, gambling supporters have to convince legislators who want to help their horse and dog racing tracks in their hometowns. The Senate wants to give pari-mutuels or "racinos" more gaming options like video lottery terminals, which looks like a slot machine.

The anti-gambling House does not like the idea of pari-mutuels offering more games and also wants to limit the games that the tribe can offer at their casinos. The owners of the Palm Beach Kennel Club-which is located in the hometown of Senate President Jeff Atwater-want an opportunity to hold a vote to determine whether they can feature Class III slot machines.

The Hialeah Park racing track wants to re-open for business with quarter-horse racing, a poker rooms and Las Vegas-style slot machines. Representative David Rivera, a Republican from Miami and who supports expanded gaming for horse and dog racing tracks in South Florida said that the whole issue is not easy as a lot of people think.

Both the House and Senate have agreed to help gaming facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade by scaling down the tax rate on slot machines from fifty percent to thirty-five percent. But they have not yet decided on how they will help other gambling entities like the dog racing tracks around the state. The House offered a compromise that would permit the Seminoles to continue featuring blackjack at its Hollywood Casino but not at any of its other gaming facilities like in Tampa.

Governor Crist commended the lower House for substantial development and said that he remains hopeful that legislators would work out an agreement before the end of the session. Some legislators say that the House and Senate officials lost their leverage when they separated the gaming issues from the education funding in the state budget. That scaled down the pressure on anti-gambling House officials to vote in favor of the plans.

Some legislators also state that it allows gaming critics to drag out the gaming issue for another year while receiving contributions from the gaming industry. Representative Ron Saunders, a Democrat from Key West says that as long as the gaming industry continues to hand campaign contributions to the Republicans in Florida, the gaming proposal will continue to be in doubt. He added that when they cancelled the funding connection to education, that was the death sentence to the whole thing.


Monday, May 18 , 2009
Victor Sanchez