A State Senate Committee in Florida has approved a bill that seeks to expand gambling in the state. Introduced by Sen. Bill Galvano, the bill will enable two more casinos to be developed in the counties of Miami-Dade and Broward and also add slot machines to racetracks as well as jai alai frontons in other counties where they are legal.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved the bill without any delay or amendments indicating that the lawmakers are serious about getting the bill through in the current legislative session.
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The bill has been passed even as the state is in the process of negotiating a new tribal gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe which operates a large gaming empire in the region. The chair of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz who is leading the state’s negotiations with the tribe applauded the swift approval.
In a statement Jose Felix Diaz said, “The Senate’s passage of a gaming bill this early in the year is a gigantic first step. The fact that we are seeing forward progress in January is a testament to Sen. Galvano’s willingness to continue a conversation with multiple interested parties, including the governor, the Seminole Tribe and the Florida House.”
Compact negotiations with the Seminole Tribe have been contentious with lawsuits being filed by both the state government and the tribe. The tribe sued the state for permitting designated player games at racetrack casinos which according to the tribe was too similar to blackjack. The tribe had sole rights to operate blackjack games under the five-year compact signed in 2010.
The state counter-sued pointing out that the Seminole Tribe had continued to offer blackjack despite the agreement lapsing in 2015 to which the tribe responded that it was doing so since the state had allowed competing games to be held at the racetrack casinos. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the tribe which led to the development of the new bill.
Under the terms of the bill, the tribe will be able to maintain its monopoly over slots in Tampa but lose its exclusivity in other areas. It will also be losing its exclusivity with respect to blackjack in South Florida. The bill will however enable the tribe to expand its gaming operations.
The expansion in gaming is expected to help the state cover the nearly $1 billion revenue shortfall. Galvano said that the revenue would help establish predictability for the state budget and protect essential programs in the state.