Category Archives: Slot Machines

GUEST ARTICLE: How the Florida House Gambling Bill is the More Sensible Approach

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling bills presented in this years Florida Legislature. Its very clear that both take very different approaches to the issue and a guest article published by Florida Politics by NoCasinos John Sowinski, breaks the issues down and concludes the House has the more sensible approach:

There are two things we can count on in Florida. In any given body of water, eventually the alligators will show up. And in any given meeting of the Florida Legislature, the same applies to gambling lobbyists. Feed either and they only become more insatiable.

With regard to the gambling interests, unfortunately, the Florida Senate is setting up a buffet of glutinous proportions. Proposed legislation calls for the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

It literally would recreate our state in Nevada’s image, with casinos popping up in communities from the far reaches of the Panhandle to the end of the Everglades.

There would be two new Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, a region already suffering from a glut of casinos. There would be a massive increase in gambling supply there, without a corresponding increase in gamblers, creating a dynamic in which the casinos could only survive by cannibalizing each other’s customers. Even the gambling industry’s own financial experts predict that 95 percent of the patrons would be locals, not tourists.

This type of gambling over-saturation is what brought the industry crashing down in Atlantic City, but not before it eviscerated existing local jobs and businesses from restaurants to retail stores.

But the Senate bill does not stop with more gambling in South Florida. Initially, casinos would spread to eight other counties. That only would be for starters because under Senate Bill 8, every horse track, dog track or jai alai fronton could become a casino.

Getting back to the alligator analogy, what the Senate is proposing is akin to taking 500 bags of marshmallows out into the middle of Lake Okeechobee at midnight and tossing them in the water….

Understanding this, leaders in the Florida House have taken a different tack. They have put forth a bill that fixes weaknesses in existing gambling law, closes loopholes that gambling lawyers continually exploit, stops the proliferation of slot machines throughout Florida, honors Florida’s constitutional restrictions on gambling, and respects the will of the people of Florida, who have consistently rejected statewide expansions of gambling. Finally, it provides for an agreement with the Seminole tribe that would achieve the stated intent of the original Seminole compact — holding the line on gambling and creating a firewall to stop the spread of casinos throughout Florida.

The entire article can be read HERE

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Florida State Sen. President Might Back Voter-Approved Slot Machines Which Could Further Complicate Seminole Compact Negotiations

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the recent voter-approved slot machines measures that could lead to an expansion of gambling in the state. The issue at hand is that the areas where these slot machines were voted on are not areas that the state has approved for gambling. A Florida Supreme Court ruling on the matter will likely clarify an existing and similar case by ruling that gambling expansion in Florida is limited by the constitution and must have approval of the legislature. However, there are signals that the new Florida State Senate President might actual back such voter-approved gambling expansion measures. The Sun Sentinel Explains: 

Voters in Duval and St. Lucie counties last month approved referendums to allow slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities, joining six other counties that had done so earlier. But the lucrative machines have not started whirling in the counties as the gambling industry, regulators and lawmakers watch a case at the Florida Supreme Court and legal issues involving the Seminole Tribe of Florida. At a breakfast meeting Tuesday with reporters, Negron said he thinks the Legislature should follow the will of voters if slot machines are approved in referendums.

There are implications beyond just the two pari-mutuel facilities mentioned. Allowing such expansion could also impact the Seminole Compact negotiations with Florida State as well. The Sun Sentinel continues:

But negotiations about a revised compact also could involve whether the tribe would have exclusive rights to offer slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties — and how that would affect the counties where voters have approved referendums. Negron said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to become the next Senate president, will take the chamber’s lead in discussions about the compact. If a deal is reached with the tribe, it would have to be approved by the Legislature. 

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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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Guest Article: Tampa Bay Times Editorial: Florida Lottery Targets Poor Residents

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the recent bill introduced to allow Florida Lottery tickets to be sold on line in the wake of the Lottery Secretary resignation scandal. The downfall of lottery winners and the disadvantages of this form of gambling have also been heavily reported on. Now, the Tampa Bay Times has released an editorial outlining the disproportionate effects the lottery has on the poor:

The Florida Lottery recently introduced five new scratch-off games, a move that likely will boost the lottery’s bottom line at the expense of its most vulnerable ticket buyers. Scratch-offs, which range from $1 to $25 a ticket, are most heavily played by the poor. No one is forcing them to fork over their money, of course. But as the lottery tailors its offerings to maximize scratch-off sales and markets games in low-income neighborhoods, Floridians would be right to question whose interest that really serves.

The names of the games are straightforward and promote a potential windfall: Maximum Money, Bonus Crossword, Double Deuces, Lucky Seven and Fast $100. All cost between $1 and $5, with a top prize of $250,000 for the $5 game. The new options mean the lottery now offers 83 scratch-off games, which account for 65 percent of ticket sales. Why do the poor play them more? For the instant gratification, experts say. People in poverty see the lottery as a chance to improve their lives. It rarely works out that way, but ticket sales soar nonetheless.

The South Florida /Sun /Sentinel recently analyzed lottery sales figures, marketing data and geographical information to discover who buys scratch-offs and what it costs them. The findings are disturbing. From 2010 to 2015, sales of scratch-offs rose three times faster in poor neighborhoods than in other areas, and it happened as the lottery directed more advertising to poor and minority areas, the /Sun /Sentinel found. Those parallel increases point to a win for the lottery’s marketing department but no one else.

Gambling critics refer to lotteries as a tax on the poor. But unlike taxes, lottery purchases aren’t compulsory. However, like taxes, they affect populations differently. The /Sun Sentinel/ found that people in high-poverty areas spent an average of $385 in 2015 on scratch-off tickets. In better-off areas, the average was $245. Those figures validate the argument that lotteries are regressive and even harmful.

Where that harm might be mitigated — in increased money for education — inequality persists. Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships, funded with lottery money, are awarded to students who score in the top tier on the SAT or ACT. The high standards mean mostly middle- and upper-class students earn the scholarships, not poor and minority kids. That gap grew wider last year when the state raised the bar even more on Bright Futures in order to rein in costs.

These are salad days for the Florida Lottery, which is enjoying its highest sales ever — $532 million in July alone. Profits were up 17 percent compared with July 2015. But too much of the windfall is coming out of the pockets of low-income Floridians who are being lured to spend money they can’t afford to lose on a long-shot bet.

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Local Florida Initiative Petition Concerning Treatment of Greyhounds will make Upcoming Ballot

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the struggling greyhound tracks in Florida. The racing industry mainly stays in business to allow their facilities to operate slot machines, where their real profits stem. There have been numerous reports of ill treatment of the dogs and it’s the industry has been actively attempting to pass legislation that allows for gambling at their facilities without actually requiring dog races, a process referred to as decoupling. Decoupling efforts haven’t been successful so far, so the greyhound races are still a necessity. Given the issues with the treatment of the animals, a group has done the work to put together an initiative petition to require additional safeguards of the dogs. The Orlando Sentinel reports: 

Greyhound racing gets a full vetting today by Seminole County commissioners. At a public hearing in Sanford, commissioners will focus on the racing and the county powers over it.

Animal-welfare advocates grabbed the county’s attention last month when they plopped down a petition with enough signatures for a Nov. 8 ballot referendum. Their Greyhound Protection Act would ask Seminole County voters if the dog-track owner should be required to disclose greyhound injuries and the race dogs be licensed by the county. It also would require the kennel club to report on what happens to the dogs after their racing careers are over.

With the Seminole backdrop, as WFTV reported earlier this year, “Nationally, and across Florida, greyhound racing is not nearly as popular as it once was. … At … tracks across the state, the dogs run so the tracks can keep their gambling licenses for simulcast and poker.” 

In an op-ed piece ran by the Orlando Sentinel, one of the individuals who helped gather signature for the petition outline the issues facing the dogs and what the ballot initiative strives to protect them from:

I cannot describe the sense of achievement we both felt when our all-volunteer campaign announced it had collected 14,000 signatures, more than enough to advance to the November ballot. It’s important, because there are serious animal-welfare problems at Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, as revealed through Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation records and industry documents.

In my opinion, Sanford Orlando Kennel Club is a low-end track where dogs go when they cannot compete elsewhere. It uses roughly 700 greyhounds, and these dogs race every five days on average. The rest of the time, greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in a warehouse-style kennel compound, in stacked metal cages, for up to 23 hours per day.

According to state records, 28 greyhounds have died at the track since May 2013. For example, on April 20, a 2-year-old dog named Queen Jewel died after she fell and suffered an open fracture. Young dogs like Queen Jewel are dying needlessly for a gambling enterprise that is failing economically. Betting peaked at Sanford Orlando in 1988, and since then has dropped by 69 percent.

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Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Major Slot Expansion Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issue in Florida over the right of any jurisdiction to vote on allowing slot machines verses the clear intent of Florida legislators to only allow slot machines at state approved locations.  The case involving gambling expansion in Gadsden County has reached the Florida Supreme Court and arguments were presented.  Creek Entertainment Gretna lawyer claim that any referendum passed by the people should be allowed to move forward as long as there is an eligible facility to run the slots.  The implications for the case are quite vast and would allow Greyhound Racing and other pari-mutuel type facilities to dramatically, and likely drastically expand gambling in the state, which is clearly not the intent of state regulators, and the clear conclusion reached by the lower court.  The Tampa Bay Times explains:

[Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state] said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna’s slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,” Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither. 

Marc Dunbar, lead lawyer for Gretna, pointed to a rule change made by the Legislature and claim that the change opens the door for any county to move forward with the proper facility.  Not only Williams refute the claim to the Court, but the Justices themselves raised serious questions about their position:

The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel facility when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots.

The Legislature changed the law in 2010 to allow counties to authorize slot machines, but Williams said that change applies only if the Legislature or the state Constitution authorized the expansion. It does not authorize counties to hold a referendum “for the legal effect of providing an exemption to a statewide ban,” he said.

Justices grilled Dunbar and Williams about what they saw as conflicting legislative intent. [Justice Barbara Pariente] asked Dunbar why lawmakers would authorize slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward but not specifically authorize them elsewhere. “To basically say to 65 other counties you just have to have a referendum and, if you’re a home rule [county], you’re fine,” she said. “This would have been a very, very significant expansion of slot machines… and there is nary a mention in the legislative record of this kind of change.”

Florida legislators responded to questions from the Tampa Bay Time about their perceived intent during the rule change and if massive gambling expansion was really the focus:

Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and supporter of Gretna Racing, said he voted for the change to allow counties the opportunity to bring slot machines to their pari-mutuels and “our intent was never to hamstring the counties and tell them what they could not do.”

But Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been at the core of the Legislature’s gambling negotiations for the past seven years, said Tuesday that when lawmakers adopted the change to the state gaming law in 2010, they did not intend to open the door to the expansion of slot machines as Gretna Racing and five other pari-mutuels around the state are claiming. “It was not the intent of the Legislature to open the door for counties to hold their own referendums to allow the expansion of slots,” he said in an interview with the /Times/Herald/.

He said the Legislature wanted to clarify the terms of the referendum language in the event lawmakers would ever approve of an expansion of gaming in the future. “We didn’t want the Hialeah expansion to muddy the waters,” he said. “Instead, we reiterated that if we approved legislatively expanded slots — or a legislatively constitutional amendment … we didn’t relinquish authority.”

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