Florida Senator Presents Omnibus Gambling Expansion Bill

Florida may see a massive expansion of its gambling industry after a state Senator introduced on Thursday a 112-page bill that would allow for the process. If Senate Bill 8 gains the necessary support in the state Legislature, it would scrap the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly over blackjack but would give it the right to operate other banked games, would allow the addition of more slot machines at gambling facilities, and would relax certain restrictions previously posed to local pari-mutuels.

As presented by Sen. Bill Galvano, the bill seems to have a little something for all involved parties. The proposed legislation is aimed to modernize the state’s gambling laws and to address long-standing issues.

The heavy bickering between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe is one such issue. In 2010, the two parties signed a five-year gambling compact, under which the tribe was given exclusivity over the provision of blackjack in the state. In exchange for that, it had to contribute $1 billion in revenue to the state.

The compact expired in July 2015 and the Seminole Tribe was supposed to stop offering blackjack at its casinos. However, tribal officials argued that the state had violated the compact by giving local pari-mutuels the right to operate designated table games. As a result, the tribe’s casinos continued offering blackjack. This, in turn, incited a prolonged legal battle between the Seminoles and Florida.

A new compact was eventually negotiated, one that provided tribal casinos with blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion being contributed to the state’s coffers during the first seven years. However, the deal did not meet the necessary support in the Legislature before the end of the the 2016 legislative session.

As part of his new gambling bill, Sen. Galvano presented what he considered would be a solution to the problem, if given the necessary comprehensive consideration by all involved parties. Under his proposal, the Seminole Tribe will no longer hold the monopoly over blackjack but will be given the right to operate other banked table games, including craps, sic-bo and roulette, at all its casinos around the state; something it had previously asked for but had been refused.

There is a chance that Sen. Galvano’s approach to the problem will create more controversy as the Seminoles have so far shown a clear determination to retain exclusivity over blackjack.

Another important provision included in SB 8 would allow for a considerable expansion of the number of slot machines available across the state. Sen. Galvano proposed a change in the definition of “eligible facility” in a manner that would allow for more gambling facilities to feature this type of service.

Under the proposed legislation, licensed pari-mutuels can get slots at their premises as long as they are located in counties where the operation of such machines has been approved by a local referendum. Gambling facilities in other counties will be able to add slots after January 1, 2018, where voters will be able to vote in new referendums.

SB 8 also provides for a move defined as ‘decoupling’ that will scrap a certain restriction imposed on dog and horse tracks that operate other forms of gambling. These will no longer have to run live races in order to be allowed to feature slots or card games.

If signed into law in its current form, Sen. Galvano’s bill would also legalize fantasy sports in the state. In SB 8, these are defined as games of skill. An Office of Amusements in the State Department of Business and Professional regulation would be created to regulate fantasy sports contests. All interested fantasy sports operators will have to obtain a license in order to be allowed to operate in Florida.

The proposed legislation includes provisions that would ensure that the state gets its fair share of the gambling revenue generated across facilities. Such a comprehensive measure will certainly require time to be reviewed in due manner, so immediate action should not be expected from lawmakers. What is more, the passage of SB 8 may get complicated by the introduction of a separate, House-sponsored, bill on gambling.