TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – South Florida could become home to two massive casinos, dog tracks could end live greyhound racing and slot machines could expand into other parts of the state under a mammoth gambling bill filed Monday.
The measure filed by Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, would upend the state’s multi-billion dollar gambling industry if approved during the 60-day legislative session that kicks off this week.
Young ‘s measure does not address the compact that allows the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack and other games at its casinos, including at the Hard Rock casino just outside of Tampa. That portion of the state’s compact with the tribe expires later this year.
Instead, the 316-page bill focuses on the rest of the state’s gambling landscape. Young, who had been charged with shepherding gambling legislation this year by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, said she was trying to start a “much-needed and well-timed conversation” about the future of gambling.
“I believe it is my responsibility to present members with two competing visions of gaming in Florida … so they can ultimately determine which approach they believe represents the best public policy for our state,” Young said.
Young called her bill the “Gaming Control Act of 2015” and pointed out that it had provisions that she argued would reduce the amount of gambling in the state. She is also proposing a stand-alone constitutional amendment that would prohibit gambling expansion in the future.
But groups with a long-standing opposition to casinos blasted the measure and said it “defies logic” for Florida to push ahead with the bill even as casinos run into financial trouble in other states like New Jersey.
“This bill would cause the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos. “It invites wall to wall casino gambling in Florida, and the social costs and crime that go with it.”
Recent efforts to win approval of mega-casinos have gotten bogged down the last few years in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Business groups and Disney have staunchly opposed bills to approve casinos, while the owners of the state’s dog and horse tracks have opposed bills that didn’t help their industry. Gov. Rick Scott tried to win approval of a new deal with the Seminole Tribe last year but he ran into significant opposition among legislators.
If approved Young’s bill would allow a total of two “destination resort” casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Those seeking to build the new casinos would have to agree to spend a minimum of $2 billion on the resort. Voters in those counties would also have to approve the casinos ahead of time.
While Young said that legislative staff were still “crunching the numbers” the bill could generate more money for the state than the existing compact with the Seminoles. That’s because each mega casino would have to agree to pay at least $175 million a year.
The measure (HB 1233) would also allow slot machines to be added to dog tracks in both Palm Beach and Lee counties, while at the same time allowing dog track owners to end live greyhound racing without being forced to surrender permits for other types of gambling such as poker rooms. The legislation would also lower the tax rate paid by tracks located in Broward and Miami-Dade counties that are already have slot machines.