Big gambling wish list on table
Slot machines, blackjack and roulette are back on the table as lawmakers prepare once again to tackle the high-stakes issue of gambling in a state that everyone agrees is already one of the industry's biggest cash cows.
But there's little else the players and their opponents agree on.
Even as the Legislature awaits a final report on the economic impacts of gambling in Florida, the dog fight over who gets what kinds of gambling – and how much – is already ramping up.
The competing interests are hedging their bets. They're hiring lobbyists, enlisting public-relations firms and stuffing campaign coffers, even while many privately admit the odds are against anything actually getting passed in 2014, an election year in which Republican Gov. Rick Scott is seeking a second term and legislators throughout the state will be on the ballot.
But many believe that a looming 2015 end to an agreement with the Seminole Indians that lets the tribe run table games like blackjack could tip the scales in favor of some resolution during the upcoming session.
Most of the players don't want to wait until Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican whose district is in the shadow of gambling foe Disney, and House Majority Leader Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, take over the helms of their respective chambers before the 2015 legislative session.
And lawmakers, who paid Spectrum Gaming Group nearly $400,000 for a gambling study, want plenty of time to revisit the Seminole compact, which took two full years – and a Florida Supreme Court opinion – to nail down in 2010 after then-Gov. Charlie Crist initially signed a deal with the tribe without the Legislature's approval.
The threat of Crist's return to the governor's mansion, this time as a Democrat, when the compact must be re-inked or allowed to lapse on July 1, 2015, further complicates the already labyrinthine issue.
As was the case the last time the deal with the Seminoles was in the works, all of the state's existing track and fronton operators are throwing their wish lists on the table.
They're divided by geography and confounded by regulators who have made a series of policy turn-arounds as operators and their lawyers exploit loopholes in a patchwork quilt of gambling laws to maximize the pari-mutuels' reach along with their profits.
The Senate Gaming Committee will meet Sept. 23, the first day of committee meetings this fall, and hold hearings at four locations late in October and in November.