Florida Reanimated: Senate gambling bill, with changes, back in play

A strike-all amendment planned for the Senate’s 2018 gambling bill will add an authorization for slot machines in counties where voters OK’d them in local referendums, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said Thursday.

The Senate bill (SB 840) is now slated for consideration before the Appropriations Committee Friday. Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is the Senate’s lead negotiator on gambling for the Legislative Session.

“We’ll also have some contraction of (gambling) licenses,” he said. “And then some limitation on the number of slots, contracting from what is already authorized, so that there’s a balance. We’re still talking about a number, but it will be a contraction.”

Speaker Richard Corcoran has previously said this year that any legislation the House agrees to must be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state—though he hasn’t specifically defined that term.

A “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment is on the November ballot, requiring a statewide OK for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, the Legislature will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

The latest proposal also would satisfy Senate President Joe Negron, who favors granting slots to pari-mutuels in “referendum” counties,” saying the Legislature should respect the will of the people.

Those extra slots weren’t in the previous versions of the Senate bill and are not in the House measure (HB 7067).

“I have always been clear those referendums that took place were not done pursuant to state law; in fact, they were done in spite of state law,” Galvano said. “Nonetheless, he (Negron) has been a proponent of that, so we are putting that issue in play.”

The Seminole Tribe also may be softening its position on games that it feels threaten its exclusivity to offer certain games in the state, he added.

“They continue to have an interest in getting something together,” Galvano said. “Their last offer was really not very impressive.”

A draft agreement that the Tribe reportedly shared with legislators suggests it would be willing to back down on its opposition to the state expressly allowing fantasy sports play and continued play of designated-player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack offered in pari-mutuel cardrooms.

The Seminoles’ current deal with the state allows it to reduce or cut off payments to the state, expected to reach over $300 million next year, if other games are played that it believes impinges on any of its exclusive gambling rights.

The House will next consider its bill on the floor Friday. Galvano said he hopes the two chambers can get into conference over gaming legislation no later than next Wednesday. The Session ends next Friday.

“Chair (JoséOliva and I continue to have conversations,” Galvano said. “We are, in concept, together on the idea that we need to solidify our relationship with the Tribe.” Oliva, the Speaker-designate and a Miami Lakes Republican, is the House gaming negotiator.

Both chambers now are behind a renewed 20-year deal with the Tribe for $3 billion in revenue over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack, and to slot machines outside South Florida.

Galvano said future money from the Seminoles could be used to “backfill” recurring costs for public school safety and campus ‘hardening’ being considered in the wake of the deadly school shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Senate also exempts thoroughbred horse tracks and jai alai frontons from decoupling, which allows a pari-mutuel to stop live racing but keep offering other gambling, such as slots. The bill still allows for greyhound-racing decoupling, however.