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New House Gambling Bill Emerges For Friday Hearing

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(Source: CBS4)

(Source: CBS4)

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Destination Resorts Bill
Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — In a key test for casino gambling in Florida, a House subcommittee Friday will take up a revised bill that would allow up to three destination resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The bill (PCS for HB 487) is significantly different from a proposal that passed a Senate committee last month. Along with allowing resort casinos, for example, the Senate proposal also includes the possibility of slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state.

With the House traditionally more reluctant than the Senate to expand gambling, House sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, filed a revised version of his bill Wednesday that stuck closely to the issue of allowing huge “destination” resort casinos.

“We limited it to the original vision of the bill,” Fresen said.

The House Business & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee will consider the bill Friday, the first time the proposal has faced a House vote. The Senate bill (SB 710) was approved Jan. 9 by the Regulated Industries Committee but has not been heard again in committee.

The resort-casino issue has touched off a major political fight, dividing business groups and spurring a television ad war. Supporters argue, in part, that resort casinos would add tens of thousands of jobs, while opponents contend they would hurt the state’s family-friendly tourism image.

Pari-mutuel facilities play a key role in the debate, as they lobby heavily in Tallahassee and have longstanding relationships with lawmakers. At least some pari-mutuel facilities are worried that resort casinos would have a competitive advantage, because of issues such as casinos being able to offer a broader array of games.

Fresen’s proposal would limit resort casinos to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and voters would have to approve the projects in county referendums. Companies would have to agree to spend at least $2 billion on the development and construction of each resort casino.

While Fresen would not go as far as the Senate bill in concessions to the pari-mutuel industry, his bill would reduce the tax rate on slot machines at Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels from 35 percent to 10 percent. That change, which would only occur if resort casinos are built, would match the tax rate that would apply to the casinos.

The House bill also includes a provision that appears aimed at making the bill more palatable to gambling opponents. That provision would ban Internet cafes, which have opened across the state in recent years and offer games that critics liken to computerized slot machines.

The Senate bill would regulate the cafes but allow them to continue operating. The cafes contend they offer legal sweepstakes games.

“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”

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