TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A House panel has overwhelmingly supported a trio of gambling bills that would ratify a $3 billion deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe, do away with greyhound racing while allowing dog tracks to keep operating other games, and open the door for slot machines in Palm Beach County.READ MORE: 2 Doral Police Officers Injured In Shooting Near Miami-Dade Police Headquarters; Suspect Killed ID'd By Police
But a Senate committee, expected to vote on its version of the gambling legislation, postponed consideration of the measures after Sen. Joe Negron filed a series of amendments that would dramatically change the proposal, months in the making.
Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley said he decided to delay discussion of the gambling bills for a week to give the panel more time to “digest” Negron’s complicated proposal.
“I received requests from committee members to have some time to review those amendments without feeling rushed. This is an issue that is complex and large enough that it’s a reasonable request,” Bradley said Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the House Regulatory Affairs Committee approved three gambling measures. One (PCB RAC 16-01) would ratify an agreement, called a “compact,” inked by Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole tribal leader James Billie in December. The compact would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette to their casino operations in exchange for a guarantee of $3 billion in payments to the state over seven years.
A second measure (PCB RAC 16-02) would allow greyhound tracks to do away with dog racing while keeping other pari-mutuel activities such as poker and slots, a process known as “decoupling.” The bill, amended to include the compact, would also decouple harness and quarter-horse races but would keep thoroughbred racing at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
The proposal would also allow slots in Palm Beach County and at a new facility in Miami-Dade County.
The committee also approved a proposed constitutional amendment (PCB RAC 16-03), which would let voters decide whether they want to expand gambling in the future — after the compact and the other gambling changes go into effect.
House Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz said he decided to go ahead with the vote on the House’s gambling legislation after Bradley told him he was going to delay the vote on the Senate’s bills.
With the legislative session reaching the halfway point Wednesday, the Senate panel’s delay could make ratification of the compact problematic.
“We’re in week five, so every week that we don’t have a bill is a week closer to the bill dying,” Diaz said. “It could very easily be one of those bills that we’re deciding at the very last moment. It just sort of looks and smells like it.”
But both Bradley and Diaz said that there is “plenty of time” for the Legislature to finalize a deal before the session ends on March 11.READ MORE: Florida Judge Set to Decide On School Mask Rule
“All the same challenges that existed six months ago, one month ago, one week ago, still exist today,” Bradley said.
Negron’s proposals, if passed, would significantly alter the agreement worked out by Scott’s general counsel, Tim Cerio, in tandem with Bradley and Diaz, who negotiated with the tribe for months before reaching an accord in December.
One of Negron’s amendments would allow slots at pari-mutuels in each of six counties — including Palm Beach — where voters have approved them, and in other counties where voters sign off on them in the future.
His plan would also decouple all dog and horse racing along with jai alai games, but allow the pari-mutuels to keep operating cardrooms and slot machines.
His proposal also includes $45 million — $20 million from the compact, and $25 million from revenues from slots and card games at pari-mutuels that discontinue racing or jai alai games — for thoroughbred purse pools.
And, in an effort to offset the expansion of gambling with the additional slot machines, Negron’s plan would eliminate 20 dormant or inactive pari-mutuel permits, while spending $20 million for the state to purchase active permits.
Negron also wants the gambling measure to include language that would confirm that “fantasy sports” are legal in Florida, the subject of a separate bill he is backing.
Diaz said he believed he had the 61 votes necessary to pass out of the House the measure approved by his committee Tuesday, but he acknowledged that the bill is “an absolute work in progress.”
“Every shift in this bill can lose a vote and gain a vote. I’ll know at the very end where we stand,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we have a bill we can pass … but I’m not going to OK a bill that’s bad just because the money’s good.”
But Negron, a Stuart Republican who will take over as Senate president after the November elections, said he believed his proposed changes would make it easier to garner support from the upper chamber.
“I think everyone understood that (the compact) was a first draft for the Legislature to consider,” Negron said. “Without addressing the issues in my amendment, there are not enough votes to pass the compact in the Senate. My amendment actually increases the likelihood of the bill passing.”MORE NEWS: Rod Stewart's Plea Deal On Battery Charge Falls Through
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.