A Tale Of Two Bills: Senate Wants To Expand S. FL Casinos While House Wants To Restrict

April 28, 2017 - Sierra Kennedy

Florida lobbyists have made several attempts in recent years to expand gambling operations in the state, and a new bill that just cleared the Senate shows that there could be more casinos in the future.

Inside of FL Senate Bill 8

Florida SB 8 was sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano and was passed in a 32-6 vote on Thursday. The bill would permit the Seminole Tribe to offer roulette and craps at its five casinos, along with blackjack. An additional two casino venues would be authorized to open in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. SB 8 also would allow South Florida dog and horse tracks to offer slots in counties approved by referendums. These changes in gambling laws also would make it legal for tracks in So. FL. to offer blackjack to their patrons.

The Problem Concerning Blackjack

There is opposition coming from all sides when it comes to the Senate bill, one of which concerns the blackjack offerings in the state. The Seminoles previously held a compact with the state that permitted Class III gaming at their casinos, but it expired in 2015. With the new bill proposed by Galvano, racinos in other counties would be able to legally offer blackjack as well. This would put an end to the Seminoles’ exclusivity over blackjack, which is a monopoly they have been fighting to protect.

The Problem in the House

Sen. Bill Galvano has not been the only official working to change the face of gambling in the Sunshine State. There is currently a House bill – FL HB 7037 – that is working to freeze all gambling development in the state for 20 years. With this bill, the state would be able to resign their compact the Seminole Tribe but in order to maintain blackjack exclusivity, the tribe would have to pay a minimum guarantee of $325mill rather than the current $250mill. The funds would be distributed among programs that focus on education reform. The bill passed on an 11-7 vote but it is still too early to see what its shelf life will be.

The Seminole Tribe Weighs In

While the bills from the House and the Senate suggest drastically different terms, the Seminole Tribe is not satisfied with either. One aims to expand gambling operations in Florida, while the other wishes to completely freeze the current gambling climate. Marcellus Osceola, chairman of the Tribal Council, issued a statement regarding where he feels both bills fall short. In his eyes, neither bill has the best interest of the Seminoles’ in mind.

"Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe’s payments without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments."

Will There Be Compromise?

With two bills regarding at opposite ends of the spectrum, it seems unlikely that one bill will win over another. Some legislators, such as Rep. Mike La Rosa in the State House, have even tried to offer resolution by writing bills that would see an entirely new compact created with the tribe. Even with these efforts, there have not been any signs of a clear compromise. There will need to be a resolve reached soon, as the Florida Legislature will soon be having its final regularly scheduled session day. If a decision on the gambling issue is not met within the five weeks until the end of the annual session, FloridaGamblingSites.com predicts Florida will yet again remain in a stalemate over casino expansion.