Senate Gambling Committee Sets Glacier Pace For New Casino Legislation

Jan 23, 2013

Florida's gambling future won’t be settled  in the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature -- and maybe not even in the one after that.

PATIENCE: The Florida Senate serves notice it may be a year and a half before it even starts thinking about gambling legislation.
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The divide between competing stakeholder visions remains very wide. And, at a hearing before the Florida Senate Gaming Committee on Tuesday, chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said it could be 18 months before the work on developing legislation even begins.

"I want to do something deliberative and thoughtful," Richter told reporters after the meeting.

The agenda for state legislators includes developing new ground rules that could place resort-style casinos in destinations such as Miami and Orlando, allow South Florida's combination racetrack-casinos to expand their gambling offerings and accommodate and/or appease the Seminole Tribe, which forwards some gambling profits to the state in return for permission to run table games such as blackjack at its casinos.

The existing gambling industry hopes to sell lawmakers on the idea of creating jobs and expanding the economy with new games and facilities. But gambling opponents, such as restaurant and hotel operators, worry that casinos will intercept their tourism revenue.

'I don't want to see my district become Atlantic City.'

"There's a saying in Las Vegas," said Richard Turner, vice president and general counsel of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. "What happens here, stays here. And that's quite alright with us."

Genting, the giant Malaysian gambling company that now owns the waterfront Miami Herald headquarters, has a head start on many competitors with its plan to build a big "destination casino" on the newspaper's soon-to-be-abandoned site. And that worries Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, who represents the district. She told the News Service or Florida, "I don't want to see my district become Atlantic City."

For now, as the Sun Sentinel reports, the Senate Gaming Committee is shopping for independent consultants to study the economic and social impacts of increased gambling and it's continuing to listen to stakeholder concerns:

Lawmakers will continue to hear lobbying pitches from South Florida racinos and the destination resort  companies, as well as groups that are opposed to allowing any new gambling in Florida.

They may also take a look at the issue of whether Internet  cafes should be regulated or banned outright. Lawmakers debated that issue last year, but the House and Senate could not agree on what to do.

"It sounds to me like the committee is anxious to hear from the Internet cafes and maybe there's some initial direction we might want to take there," Richter said. "It wouldn't stall the process of looking at the bigger picture."

For the most part, though, Richter said he wants to wait for the independent study to be completed before legislators make changes to the law that could affect the state for decades.

That study, says Richter -- assuming competent people can be found to do it -- may be expensive. His estimate? He told the Sun Sentinel, "somewhere between a dollar and a gazillion dollars.