Any change to the Florida gambling landscape seems like a long shot. For years, the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have tried to renew a gambling deal and have failed every time. Additional legislation has been presented to expand upon the existing offering and roadblocks always stall any effort via a new proposed measure. The tribe and Governor Ron DeSantis are still discussing options this year, and while they negotiate behind closed doors, a Senate committee decided to approve two new measures related to gambling. How far they move forward is anyone’s guess.
The Latest Effort
This week, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved SPB 7076. This bill will create a Gaming Control Commission with five members. These individuals will be in charge of overseeing the gambling operations in the state.
A second measure, SPB 7080, was also approved. This bill would remove a requirement that pari-mutuel facilities must offer jai alai games or live horse racing and instead can provide card room games. This is considered a decoupling proposal and it faces a tough road ahead during the last few weeks of the current session.
Back in 2018, voters in Florida approved an amendment to the constitution that bans live greyhound racing at dog tracks. However, it did allow the tracks to offer card games and slots. Pair-mutuel operators would like to see the decoupling process come to light and hope that the new legislation continues to move forward.
The Senate plan is connected to pari-mutuels that offer harness racing, jai alai, and quarter-horse racing. Venues located in Broward and Miami-Dade counties could offer slots or poker games instead, as the options are allowed in these counties.
The decoupling plan would not affect the Gulfstream Park track and Tampa Bay Downs. Breeders of thoroughbreds and owners are in support of the plan. The Isle Casino Pompano is the only harness-racing track in the state, and it would be able to remove horse racing but keep poker and slot gaming.
Questioning the Effort
Senator Ray Rodrigues is questioning the effort, wondering why decoupling harness racing should take place while requiring thoroughbred tracks to continue to provide live races. The senator pointed out that he feels the quarter horses, standard quarter horses, and jai alai are just going through the motions with current operations. He doesn’t feel that what is being offered is a legitimate contest.
Rodrigues sees thoroughbred races as legitimate races and competitive contests. He feels that excluding them makes sense.
For now, the process of deliberation continues, and lawmakers must decide how they want to proceed when it comes to horse racing and jai alai. Will the state decide to allow these venues to do away with racing and offer other gambling options?
Another question is if the Seminole Tribe and the state will be able to reach an agreement that meets both parties' needs. For quite some time, the negotiations have been stuck and with discussions taking place behind closed doors, we really have no idea what is being discussed. It will be interesting to see if new developments emerge and what exactly is on the table with the compact discussions.