TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) — As the Legislature considers several bills that would alter or even expand gambling in Florida, the chairman of a key House panel said Tuesday the states need to acknowledge its status as a gaming state and find a more effective way to regulate the industry.

The House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee heard three gaming bills Tuesday, including a workshop on a measure by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami that would allow new “destination resorts” to operate in the state. That came less than a week after the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved bills easing restrictions on card games at dog tracks and allowing intrastate Internet poker.

House Business and Consumer Affairs Chairman Esteban Bovo, R-Hialeah, said the focus on gaming issues this year wasn’t necessarily unusual, but did indicate an increasing realization on the part of lawmakers.

“We as a committee, and I think as a state, are now starting to come to grips with the reality that we are a gaming state,” Bovo said. “And as much as we probably have tried to ignore that and maybe bury our head in the sands, the reality is that it’s here.”

Bovo said the state has for decades taken a “parochial” approach to gaming, with lawmakers from districts with pari-mutuels or other gaming outlets trying to get an advantage for local interests or shield them from damage instead of taking a broader view of the issues involved.

“I think the state would probably be best served at the end of the day looking at a gaming commission bill, a la Pennsylvania, a la Nevada, that has the best interests of the state in mind and that could do this where you could handle issues of the breeders, you could handle issues of the thoroughbreds, the trainers — all the components,” Bovo said.

Anti-gambling lawmakers might also prefer the idea of a commission, Bovo said, since it would allow them to avoid voting on gaming issues.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, has sponsored a measure that would create a gaming commission, but the bill has no House counterpart. Bovo said a portion of Fresen’s bill, which creates the Destination Resort Commission, could be the foundation for a broader gaming commission.

There are substantial differences between the Senate destiny-resort bills, which were temporarily postponed at a separate meeting Tuesday, and the House measure, Fresen said after the meeting. He said his measure would allow more diverse business models than the Senate counterpart, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, and wouldn’t include a limit on how close the destination resorts can be to each other.

“We’re not trying to essentially artificially rig the market when the market may otherwise want to have more than one in a certain location,” Fresen said.

Scott was noncommittal Tuesday when asked about the destination-resort bills, saying only that he would review them.

“My position all along is, we have gaming in our state,” Scott said. “It’s a local issue and I think that’s the way we should continue.”

Meanwhile, Bovo’s committee approved on a 15-1 vote a measure that would allow dog tracks to offer card rooms even if they no longer run a full schedule of greyhound races.

The measure (HB 1145) is pushed by a coalition of pari-mutuels who want to be freed from the dog-racing requirement and animal-rights advocates who see the bill as a new blow to an industry that is already beginning to lose popularity.

Rep. Dana Young, the Tampa Democrat who sponsored the measure, said tax receipts from dog racing have dropped so much that the state is “reaching the point where it may cost more … to regulate this industry than we collect in taxes.”

Christine Dorchak, president of anti-racing group GREY2K USA, said Arizona and Iowa have taken similar steps with greyhound tracks there in recent years.

“It will not only save the state money from regulating this dying industry, it will save greyhounds,” she said.

But greyhound breeders have fiercely opposed the measure, saying it would cost the state hundreds of jobs and mark a massive change to state policy, which allowed other types of gambling only as a side business for dog tracks.

“If the pari-mutuels want to change that, they need to be honest with your constituents and go home and run a referendum,” said Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders, owners, kennel operators and others who want to keep the racing going.

Even some of those who supported the measure questioned the about-face.

“I guess I’m kind of stuck on the fact that these places opened up as dog tracks,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who voted for the bill.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Comments (6)
  1. val wolf says:

    Any step to eliminate live greyhound racing is a step in the right direction. These lovely dogs must be spared the exploitation from the dog racing industry.

    Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane. Greyhounds endure lives of nearly constant confinement, kept in cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around. While racing, many dogs suffer and die from injuries including broken legs, paralysis, and cardiac arrest. And many greyhounds are euthanized every year, as the number retired from racing exceeds the number of adoptive homes.

    At racetracks across the country, greyhounds endure lives of confinement. According to industry statements, greyhounds are generally confined in their cages for approximately 20 hours per day. They live inside warehouse-style kennels in stacked cages that are barely large enough to stand up or turn around. Generally, shredded paper or carpet remnants are used as bedding.

    An undercover video recently released by GREY2K USA shows the conditions in which these gentle dogs are forced to live

    Dogs play an important role in our lives and deserve to be protected from industries and individuals that do them harm.

    Val Wolf Board Member, GREY2K USA

  2. Eric Jackson says:

    There’s money in gambling, but you need to ask whose money is it and where does it go?

    One thing’s for sure, gaming and live racing should be decoupled. Let these endeavors stand or fall on their own merit. The only people against decoupling are the people represented by Jack Cory. Track owners want to get rid of greyhound racing because it’s no longer profitable. Many others want to see the end of greyhound racing because it’s cruel and inhumane.

  3. Sally Allen says:

    For many of us in the greater midwest, FL is a vacation destination and allowing the gaming industry to be more progressive would probably boost
    the state’s economy. It’s a good idea that greyhound racing stay or go based on its own popularity.

    Sally Allen

  4. Nancy Weller says:

    I think it is a wise move. As already mentioned, FL is a vacation playground. And racing is a business, just like any other. It really should be treated as such.

  5. Cyndi Rennick says:

    It’s time to free the greyhounds and the track owners from the regulations that force them to continue live racing to empty grandstands. The injury and death that the dogs sustain and the cost to the track owners should be enough to push this intelligent legislation through. De-couple live racing and gambling. And finally, everybody wins!

  6. justhinking says:

    Maybe there is hope still. Finally a little reason from the elected officials. The people want to gamble. Sell the liscense to the operators, collect the tax, let the gaming businesses compete for the gamblers. The gaming establishments can decide what games they want to offer. Establish a knowledgeable gaming commission, let them set standard rules for players and operators and get out of the way. Offer a basic education about gambling to the public so they have a chance to understand whats going on and let the buyer beware.
    Florida and gambling have changed, lets get on living and enjoy what we can.
    Trying to micro manage the gamblers and the operators is a waste of tax payers money.

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