Category Archives: Gambling Venues

Florida House and Senate at Odds over best Gambling Future for the State

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of expanded gambling in Florida. Most recently, its was reported that the Florida Senate introduced a massive gambling expansion bill. Earlier this monththe Senate pushed the gambling bill through its first hurdle by approving it in committee. An online source provides some key details of the bill: 

A bill that calls for statewide gambling expansion *has passed a vote in the Florida Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee*. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, the proposed 112-page law will next be heard in the Committee on Appropriations. If it gains the necessary support there, the legislation will next advance to the Senate floor.

Generally speaking, Senate Bill 8 will allow for the addition of more slot machines at more gambling facilities. In order for this to be possible, the legislative piece proposes a change in the definition of *“eligible facility.”* Under SB 8, slots will be legal in all counties where the operation of the devices has been approved in a countywide referendum. Other counties will be able add slot machines, if their residents vote positively on the move at referendums that can take place after January 1, 2018. Sen. Galvano has also proposed what has been defined as ‘decoupling’, a measure that would allow state dog and horse tracks to feature other gambling options such as card games and slots *without having to run live races*. In addition, SB 8 will allow the Seminole Tribe, which operates a number of casinos across Florida, to offer different banked table games, including *craps, roulette, and sic-bo*. However, the tribe will no longer have monopoly over the provision of blackjack around the state.

Now, the Florida House has released its direction for Florida’s gambling future with its own bill. This bill is seen as more practical and potentially less harmful to Florida’s families. The Saint Peters Blog reports: 

The Florida House of Representatives quietly released its gambling overhaul for 2017 Thursday afternoon, setting it for a hearing next Thursday. As expected, the 81-page bill includes a renewed blackjack deal, or “compact,” between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as first struck by Gov. Rick Scott.  No Casinos, the gambling expansion group, soon tweeted: “Still analyzing bill, but at first blush @MyFLHouse seems to have found a way to renew compact without turning FL into Vegas/Atlantic City.” 

But the House already is at odds with the Senate’s 112-page measure, which is set for its second and last committee hearing next week before the Appropriations panel. In one significant example, the House bill outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated-player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players. Moreover, the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, retroactively to Jan. 1 of this year, by barring state regulators from issuing any new slots licenses. The Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines, including allowing “any licensed pari-mutuel facility” to get slots.

Last month, House Speaker *Richard Corcoran* suggested his chamber’s approach to gambling would be different. “I’ve seen the (Senate) bill, and look, it’s not where we’re at,” Corcoran told reporters. “The three things we’ve said are, it has to be a contraction (of gambling) … we want a constitutional amendment that bans the expansion of gaming; the Senate’s said they have no interest … and we have courts that keep encroaching upon our ability to make those decisions.” 

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Florida Greyhound Industry Under fire as Gambling Interests Attempt to Leverage Poor Treatment of Dogs as a Means to Expand Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issues facing Florida’s greyhound industry. The treatment of the dogs has certainly been concerning and has lead to many calling for an end of such an old and problematic form of gambling. Most legislators have focused on legislation that will protect the dogs. Most recently, several State Representatives pushed forth legislation to prevent doping of the dogs. Florida Politics reports: 

Decrying that racing dog owners are “doping greyhounds,” state Rep. *Carlos Guillermo Smith* joined state Rep. *Alexandra Miller* and*Dana Young* Friday in another effort to tighten regulation of dog racing in Florida, with a bill explicitly banning the use of steroids. The trio asserted that female racing greyhounds are routinely given injections of anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to prevent the loss of race days and push their bodies beyond natural limits. “We know they are using steroids,” Smith said. “They are doping greyhounds. It’s inhumane.”

 While these efforts are clearly aimed at protecting the animals, such efforts are vastly different from those that claim dog racing and gambling should simply be separated, an act knows as de-coupling, leaving mini casino’s in their place. Those that seek regulation of the dogs in such a straightforward manor, often call for the end of dog racing and the gambling that keeps it in existence. However, those that seek to continue the gambling simply try to exploit the issues facing the dogs & decreased attendance and instead of concluding that the entire industry should cease to exist, they say its reason for de-coupling. Paul Seago, the executive of No Casinos, provides the analysis in an op-ed written for the Herald-Tribune:

Since horse and greyhound racing and jai alai were legalized in Florida in the 1930s, pari-mutuel owners have engaged in an almost ceaseless yearly pilgrimage to the state capitol to beg, cajole and lobby for more and more gambling with the same mantra, “give us more gambling so we can compete …;” Over the years, the Florida Legislature has given pari-mutuels simulcast wagering, poker rooms, higher poker-hand limits, and no-limit poker over the years without a vote of Floridians and without competitive bids… It is a phenomenon we call “gambling creep” (and is the subject of a video we have posted on our website at www.NoCasinos.org

Now, pari-mutuels have their sights set on slot machines, essentially making each one a casino. Recall that Florida voters rejected the idea of turning every pari-mutuel in the state into a casino in 1994 by a 2-to-1 ratio. That didn’t stop the pari-mutuels from continuing to ask lawmakers for more gambling, finally receiving card rooms in 1996. At first their arguments were that people loved racing and jai alai but needed new forms of gambling to enhance prize purses so they could continue to offer their races and live performances. Now they argue no one wants to watch racing and live jai alai so they need more gambling to continue to exist and they no longer want to offer races and live events. We take exception to pari-mutuel owners feeling that their license gives them a birthright to whatever forms of gambling become fashionable over time.

If pari-mutuels no longer wish to do the only thing the Florida Constitution authorizes them to do, they should turn in their licenses and find another purpose for their land. Instead, the Legislature has given each of these license-holders the idea that their permit is a Willy Wonka-style “golden ticket” that will one day transform their ancient track or fronton into a Las Vegas-style casino. That is not following the free market, or the wishes of Florida voters. It’s giving into crony capitalists looking for another round of corporate welfare.

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Florida Legislature and Gambling Industry Brace for Massive Gambling Expansion Bill introduced in the Florida Senate

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling issues in Florida. The most recent gambling issues have centered around the Seminole Tribe Gambling Compact  and exclusivity of table gamesand gambling venues right to expand gamblingMost of these issues are intertwined, but almost all gambling expansion requires the approval of the Florida legislature and each session these issues are up for debate. This year is no different so it should come as no surprise that a new gambling bill has been proposed for the upcoming session. The scope and size of the bill however, is rather surprising. An online source summarizes the details:

A comprehensive bill to reform gambling in the US state of Florida has been introduced. Saying he wants to avoid the arguments that have hampered previous efforts, Bill Galvano, president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, has launched a bill that offers “something for everyone.”

Galvano introduced Senate Bill 8 two months before the legislature convenes, saying he wants to give all sides time to compromise. The bill would allow major slots expansion, allow blackjack in South Florida pari-mutuel card rooms, deal with daily fantasy sports and offer a new gaming compact to the Seminole Indians.

The specifics of the bill will be expanded upon as session nears, but the direction of the bill pointing firmly in the direction of massive expansion, will surely catch the eye of everyone involved, including the Florida House who seems to prefer less gambling, especially in light of the complexities involved with the Seminole Compact.   The source continues:

The bill’s fate looks uncertain with the House preferring a contraction of gaming and the Seminoles saying a loss of gambling exclusivity would mean an end of their compact, thus an end of payments to the state. 

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Florida State Sen. President Hopeful over New Seminole Gambling Compact Deal

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing dealings between Florida and the Seminole Tribe over gambling exclusivity in the state. An agreement was reached between the two to exclusively offer table games in exchange for monetary compensation to the state. The original compact was set up in 2010 for 20 years with a renegotiation period for table games in 2015. That time came and went without a full deal being reached. At the deadline, the Florida Gov and the Tribe reached an agreement, but given the massive amount of additional gambling expansion, the Florida Legislature failed to ratify the agreement. The two have been involved in various legal battles since, but the Seminole Tribe just won a major case against the state for violating exclusivity and not negotiating in good faith.  The court agreed that the state violated the exclusivity agreement and are now allowed to continue to allow those table games through the originally compact term in 2030. Its not surprising then, that the Legislature is even more motivated to come to terms on a new gambling compact. The Sun Sentinel explains:

During a news conference Tuesday, shortly after being sworn in as Senate president, Negron said he supports reaching a new deal with the tribe, while also taking into consideration issues affecting the state’s pari-mutuel facilities. Such an agreement likely would involve the tribe making payments to the state for the right to offer certain games at its casinos.

“I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact, hopefully long term enough so that the state has predictability in revenue and that’s also fair to pari-mutuels, who are also involved in gaming throughout Florida,” Negron said.

Lawmakers have been unable for years to pass major gambling legislation, as the issue often pits different parts of the gaming industry and also draws opposition from many conservative lawmakers.

The Florida Legislative session doesn’t begin until March and Negron believes there is time to get an agreement reached. Both sides should be willing to engage in negotiations, but the state is now at more of a disadvantage and will need to focus on reducing gambling, not drastically expanding it like they failed to push through with the last attempt. The Sun Sentinel continues: 

Negron expressed optimism that a deal could be reached and approved during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in March. “Of course, it’s November, there’s plenty of time,” he said in response to a reporter’s question. “We were close to having the outline of a potential agreement last session, so it’s not as if we’re starting from scratch.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said Monday that Hinkle’s ruling benefited the tribe and “marginally” weakened the state’s negotiating position on a new deal. But he said the tribe still has reasons to negotiate a new deal with the state. “What they need is long-term stability,” Corcoran said. “And so yeah, they’re going to still come to the table, they’re going to still want that long-term stability, and we’ll see. We’ll have that negotiation and we’ll have that work itself through.”

He said any gambling legislation that passes the House would have to be “very conservative” and involve a reduction in gaming.

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UPDATE: Judge Rules Florida State Violated Seminole Gambling Compact and Allows Them to Offer Table Games through 2030

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing dealings of the exclusive gambling compact between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe. The compact granted the Seminoles exclusivity of table games in exchange for direct monetary compensation to the state. This limited table games like blackjack to their casinos, despite other state approved gambling venues existing and often expanding over the years. The case at hand involves the allowance of table games at various pari-mutuel locations since 2011. The South Florida Reporter explains:

The state of Florida’s misplay of allowing “designated player” games at racetrack card rooms has turned out to be quite fortuitous for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but it also might provide the spark needed to goose along a long-term gambling deal statewide.

A U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday that that state violated terms of its deal with the Seminoles, which allowed the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games.

Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that when racetrack card rooms started their versions of Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em, 3-Card Poker and Texas Hold ‘em, 3-Card Poker those games cut into the $250 million annual monopoly the tribe negotiated with the state. The state has permitted banked card games since 2011, and formally approved them in 2014, Hinkle wrote.

When the compact was originally signed in 2010, the blackjack portion was for only five years. It expired in July 2015, and the Seminoles have filed suit saying the state has not negotiated in good faith.

The judges ruling viewed those card games as a direct violation of the agreement and he is allowing them to continue providing those games until 2030. An appeal of the ruling doesn’t seem likely. The South Florida Reporter continues:

“The order declares that the exception has been triggered — that the tribe may conduct banked card games for the compact’s 20-year term,” Hinkle wrote. For those lacking a calendar, that means blackjack until 2030.

Hinkle called the games, in which a player stands in for the bank, an “egregious example of the cardrooms’ attempt to evade the prohibition on banked card games.” They are offered in about half of Florida’s card rooms and take in an estimated $15 million of the state’s $147 million annual poker revenues.

Don’t look for an appeal. Hinkle’s ruling was carefully worded, and covered every point. It was almost as though he were trying to write an appeal-proof ruling, although state officials say they are reviewing it.

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Florida Counties Vote to Expand Slots but Florida Supreme Court Ruling Likely to Prevent Implementation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing impact slot machine gambling and its possible expansion has on Florida. Slot machine gambling has long been limited in Florida. Over the years, various Legislative expansions have taken place, as well as locations being legalized by constitutional amendments.   In 2010, the Florida legislature allowed counties to vote for slot machines, but only if prior approval by constitutional amendments or Florida Legislature were obtained. In this year’s election, two counties have voted to expand gambling by way of slot machines, but major hurdles still exist before such expansion can take place. Local Jacksonville Fox affiliate WOKV reports:

A major legal hurdle remains before voter-approved slot machines will be available to play in Jacksonville.

While Duval County voters resoundingly approved 2,000 slot machines for the bestbet pari-mutuel facility in Arlington, the Florida Supreme Court is still determining whether a state statute permits counties outside of South Florida to expand gambling through a referendum.

The referendum – passed with 54 percent support in the Nov. 8 general election – cites a 2004 constitutional amendment allowing slots machines at certain Miami-Dade and Broward County pari-mutuel facilities through a constitutional amendment to mean voters in Duval county have the same right.

Many believe the negative impacts of slot machines weren’t adequately represented during the election, but non the less, the Supreme Court is likely to void the results as prior approval is needed outside of just the county and the Legislature hasn’t approved the venues. WOKV continues:

The group No Casinos, an opponent of gambling expansion in Florida, says only one side of County Referendum No. 1 was represented – through millions of dollars put up by the owners of bestbet. “It’s not a full picture of what happens when slot machines come to a community,” said Paul Seago, referencing the touting of new jobs and government revenue from slot machines by proponents.

Seago believes the Florida Supreme Court will determine slot machines are only allowed in South Florida, per the state statute, or that a constitutional amendment is necessary for expansion of slot machine gaming in the state. Seago’s opposition to slot machines stems from the rejection that this form of gaming brings new revenue to cities. He says, money used on slots is actually taken away from local businesses. In the meantime, slot machines are on hold outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

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Florida State & Seminole Tribe in Court over Exclusive Gambling Deal and Gambling Compact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing nature of the gambling compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe. They operated under an ongoing exclusive agreement that provided Seminole gambling facilities exclusive rights to table games in exchange for a specified revenue stream to the state of Florida. That deal came to an end and a new compact had to be renegotiated. A new deal was worked between the Seminoles and Florida Gov. Scott, but it was full of extra gambling expansion and provisions that the Florida legislature rejected. The Seminoles and Florida government had been operating in good faith to uphold the exclusivity agreement while payments were being made to the state after the fact, but then they authorized games by other gambling facilities. Now a new trial has taken place that will seemingly be ruled in favor of the Seminoles. The Sun Sentinel online explains:

A three-day trial that could shape the future of gambling in the state ended Wednesday. Attorneys for the tribe maintained during the trial that regulators who work for the Scott administration allowed dog and horse tracks to offer card games and an electronic blackjack game that mimicked the tribe’s casino games. They said that under the initial deal, the tribe would be allowed to keep blackjack for another 15 years if the state allowed someone else to have the same type of gambling.

But attorneys hired by the state disagreed with that assertion and suggested that the tribe was trying to find a way to keep blackjack tables that it is no longer entitled to keep. Top regulators for the state testified that they began to crack down on illegal card operations once they became aware of it.

The judge has not yet ruled on the case but his statements during the trial seemed to very cleanly indicated he was siding with the Seminoles. The impact of this ruling will have very clear impacts on the expansion of gambling in Florida and who will be allowed or not allowed to offer such games. The Sunshine State News explains: 

A federal judge appeared convinced Wednesday that Florida gambling regulators’ decision to allow controversial card games violated an agreement with the Seminole Tribe that gave tribal casinos exclusive rights to conduct “banked” games such as blackjack. “The state has permitted banked card games to go on (at pari-mutuel facilities). … It’s a stretch for you to convince me that the state did not permit that,” Hinkle, who is expected to rule in the coming weeks, told Moe.

Hinkle pointed to testimony from the Seminoles’ expert witness, Jimmie Ray Kilby, who defined a banking or banked card game as one in which all players play against the bank, instead of against each other. “Everybody in the industry knows that’s a banked game,” Hinkle said. 

[Additionally, he said,] “The state of Florida says if the secretary of DBPR (the Department of Business and Professional Regulation) says we’re going to allow banking games in flat-out competition with the tribe, this provision would not be extended beyond five years (because the Legislature didn’t authorize it)?” an exasperated Hinkle asked. “You’re not going to win that argument. You’re just not.” Department Secretary Ken Lawson, who was present for Wednesday’s closing arguments, would not respond to questions from reporters.

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