TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — A Senate bill that would clear the way for resort casinos in Florida will be revamped, after lawmakers raised a flurry of questions Wednesday about issues such as the impact on longstanding pari-mutuel facilities.
Sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said potential changes could include revising a proposed 10 percent tax rate for the so-called “destination” resort casinos — a rate that is lower than South Florida pari-mutuel facilities pay on slot machines and lower than casino taxes in other states.
Some members of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee were skeptical of the bill during a lengthy discussion, with Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, saying he thinks the Senate needs to “slow it down.”
“This is an expansion — a major expansion — of gambling in the state of Florida,” Thrasher said.
Many of the concerns centered on whether existing gambling venues would have “parity” with the resort casinos in the taxes they pay and the games they are allowed to offer. Supporters say pari-mutuel facilities have made investments and employed people for decades.
“I feel very strongly that whatever we do, we have to make sure we have parity,” said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.
The committee meeting offered a snapshot of the complicated debate that could play out in the coming months as lawmakers consider allowing up to three resort casinos. Supporters contend the casinos would inject billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs into Florida’s struggling economy.
The proposal has become tangled in other gambling-related issues, such as whether expanding gambling would threaten payments to the state from Seminole Indian casinos and whether the state should regulate or ban storefront Internet cafes that critics contend offer electronic gambling.
The bill was designed to allow up to three resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, though it could apply to other counties. The bill also would create a state commission to regulate gambling.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, also has proposed the resort-casino plan in the House. But in arguing for the Senate to move slowly on the issue, Thrasher said he has not received any indications about how the House will handle the proposal.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”