Florida Senate Approves Gambling Expansion Bill

by Jim Hall

FloridaA gambling expansion bill has been able to move forward after the full Senate voted in approval on Thursday.

Gambling has been discussed in several different ways in the state of Florida as the Seminole Tribe needs to create a new gaming compact and other operators want to be able to provide particular casino games to their patrons. Just this week, a gambling expansion bill was able to clear a major hurdle, moving forward after a recent full Senate vote of approval.

The State Senate Approves

On Thursday, the full Senate decided to vote in favor of passing SB 8, a gambling expansion bill for the state. The bill was passed with a vote of 32 to 6 with a separate piece of legislation now under moving on to the full House floor for consideration.

SB 8 will provide a massive expansion of gaming for the state, if the measure if approved in its current format. Basically, the bill will allow pari-mutuel facilities around the state to get rid of live racing events but still continue to offer casino-style gaming options. Slot machines would be allowed in eight counties due to approval provided via countywide referendum voting. The Seminole Tribe would also be able to add roulette and craps gaming to their venues in South Florida.

The Seminole Tribe

For any of the gambling expansion options to be successful in the state, negotiations will need to continue with the Seminole Tribe. The proposal by the Senate is not one that the tribe is welcome to as they feel it gets rid of their exclusivity with blackjack and they want to be able to remain as the sole provider of the game for quite some time into the future.

SB 8 would give the casinos operated by the tribe the right to offer additional games alongside blackjack but pari-mutuels will also be able to offer games similar to blackjack so that might not be enough to gain the approval of the tribe.

In the House, a gambling bill has been passed as well with a vote of 19 to 11 in favor of the measure. On Thursday the vote took place on HB 7037 which was filed within the lower house of Legislature. The Commerce Committee voted in favor of the measure so now the bill will be considered in the full House.

If the Senate is ready to move forward with the gambling expansion, the opposite seems to be taking place in the House. With HB 7037, slot machines will not be installed in pari-mutuel venues and craps and roulette will not be allowed at casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe. The bill would make the tribe increase their payments to the state, with $3 billion to be paid within the first seven years of a new gaming compact with the state.

The Seminoles have been embroiled in a battle with the state for some time now, having tried to remain the exclusive provider of blackjack gaming since 2015. Last year, a federal judge ruled in support of a claim by the tribe in which the tribe felt that state lawmakers were in violation of their previous compact by allowing the pari-mutuels to offer table games. The state has appealed the ruling but has been unable to gain any ground in their direction.

For now, it seems there are two battling measures in the state that would see significant changes to the state’s gambling industry. It seems that both sides will have to come to some form of consensus and changes will most likely be made to meet both sides opinion on the matter of gambling expansion for the state.