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US – Florida’s freeze on gaming moves a step closer but hurdles remain

By - 24 March 2017

Florida’s freeze on gaming has moved a step closer with the House Ways and Means Committee’s voting in favour of the legislation by 11 to 7 which would maintain the status quo on gaming in the state for two decades.

The bill would see Florida Governor Rick Scott to renew the contract with the Seminole Tribe who operates the Hard Rock Casinos located in Hollywood and Tampa, as well as four other casinos in Florida. The tribes will retain exclusive rights to offer blackjack at five casinos in return for $3bn to be paid over a period of seven years.

The bill’s sponsor Michael LaRosa said the House’s ‘status quo’ proposal would shut certain loopholes that have allowed player-banked card games to be run in poker rooms. It will also reduce unused parimutuel permits.

Mr.LaRosa said the bill was ‘straightforward’ and provided stability for the state’s gambling industry which he described a being ‘in disarray for the past few years.’

“The bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for years to come,” Mr. LaRosa explained.
The House bill is supported by the No Casinos anti-gambling group, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders Association and the Florida Greyhound Association.

However, despite the bill being voted in by the House Ways and Means Committee it was opposed by the Democratics, who want to offer horse and dog tracks more gaming options, so there is no guarantee of a compromise between the House and The Senate.

The Seminole’s are also not fully onboard as their minimum payment would go from about $250m a year to at least $325m.

Marcellus Osceola, Chairman of the Tribal Council, said: “Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe’s payments without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments.”
The paramutual industry is also likely to challenge the bill.

Republican Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said: “The pari-mutuel industry has been a friend to this state. They’ve helped provide a lot of dollars for a lot of things to happen. They by-and-large are getting treated less well than they deserve for the service they’ve rendered the state.”

Republican Joe Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, added: “There’s no way the Senate is going to remotely take any of this. It doesn’t have anything for our existing businesses and pari-mutuels.”

Last year a federal judge gave the Seminoles permission to continue offering blackjack despite a 2010 agreement allowing the tribe to offer the games expiring in 2015.

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