Gaming is shaping up to be one of the most controversial issues in the upcoming 2014 legislative session. As Vice Chair of the Gaming Committee, I will make it a priority to review the current state of the law and how any changes will affect the social and economic status of our community.

Americans like to gamble. Some form of gaming is legal in 48 states. Nationally, studies have indicated that 53 percent played the lottery last year and at least 32 percent gambled in a casino. The expansion of gambling is an issue that is debated in every statehouse in the country.

Florida is famous as a tourist destination. Gambling in some form has been a part of our history since the 1800’s. Over the years, our State government has built in a patchwork of rules, regulations, and laws that covers the gamut from horseracing to jai alai to senior arcades.

We are long overdue for a comprehensive and critical assessment of what we have and where we go from here. It is our responsibility in the Gaming Committee to review current statutes, make an assessment, and formulate a recommendation as to a comprehensive statewide approach to gaming in Florida.

The Florida Impact Gaming Study

The Florida Legislature has commissioned a two-part gaming assessment by Spectrum Gaming Group to set a factual foundation for important policy choices the Legislature will consider during the 2014 Regular Session. The current draft of the combined two-part report (784 pages) is available online by clicking here or by going to www.flsenate.gov and typing in the Search tab, “gambling impact study.” The final version of the report is due on or before November 1, 2013.

This report will not resolve the debate over the merits of legalized gambling, nor is it the assignment of Spectrum Gaming Group to attempt to do so. Rather, it is an economic and academic study for the purpose of educating the state’s policymakers so we can make effective decisions regarding the future of gambling in Florida.

Gaming Committee Public Hearings

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I and my colleagues on the Gaming Committee are interested in hearing the views of citizens throughout the State of Florida on the issue of gambling. Anyone may speak at the four public hearings or submit written comments here or by going towww.flsenate.gov and clicking the blue “Gaming” icon on the left hand side of the page.

Pari-Mutuels

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Pari-mutuels have been a part of the Florida gaming landscape since the turn of the century. “Pari-mutuel” is a form of pool betting in which those backing the first three places divide the loser’s stakes. Pari-mutuel activities in Florida include thoroughbred horse racing, harness horse racing, quarter horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai (a court game similar to handball). Most importantly, pari-mutuel facilities can operate poker and domino games, which can only be operated by the holder of a pari-mutuel license when there is live racing or jai alai in operation.

Florida accounts for almost 60% of the nation’s pari-mutuel wagering. Florida is the only state with live jai alai games and one of the few states with live greyhound racing. Slot machines are also allowed at pari-mutuel facilities throughout Dade and Broward counties.

Decoupling

 

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Senator Sachs on the track at Palm Beach Kennel Club with rescued greyhounds

The current law mandates that pari-mutuel facilities run a mandatory number of races in order to operate profitable card rooms. Over the years, the popularity of live greyhound races has decreased. On a national level, from 2001 to 2010, betting on live greyhound racing fell from $829 million to $203 million, a decline of 76 percent. The number of greyhound races that took place declined 21 percent, and paid attendance to greyhound racetracks fell 85 percent.

The term “decoupling” means separating the operation of cardrooms in pari-mutuel facilities with the requirement of live racing. Decoupling does not mean banning or outlawing a particular type of racing, but rather not forcing pari-mutuel facilities to run races for the sole purpose of operating a profitable cardroom.

Senior Arcades

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Senator Sachs with Gale Fontaine, President of Florida Arcade Association, and other members of the association in her Senate office in the Capitol
This session, the laws relating to senior arcades and family amusement centers, such as Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Busters, will also be a subject of review. There were approximately 10 senior arcades in Broward County and 50 in Palm Beach County prior to the law passed last session.

During the last session, many senior arcades were closed as being a prohibited form of gambling. That law will also be reviewed as part of this committees work.

Integrated Destination Resorts

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Proposed resort destination in Miami

An integrated destination resort is a casino property with high-end amenities including, restaurants, leisure activities, and other resort features that has the ability to attract out-of-market patrons for a multiple-night stay.

The argument has been made that these integrated destination resorts can and will cannibalize local businesses. This is an important issue that will be reviewed critically by the Gaming Committee as it impacts the economy of the State.

Native American Gaming Compact

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Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida
The gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida was executed by Governor Charlie Crist on April 27, 2010 and ratified by the US Department of the Interior on July 7, 2010. This Compact has a term of 20 years, expiring on July 31, 2030. The expiration for house-banked card games (including blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat) will expire on July 31, 2015.

The Seminole Compact authorizes games at seven locations and also requires the tribe to regulate its casinos under specific internal control requirements. The compact names the Seminole Tribal Gaming Commission as the tribal governmental agency that has the authority to carry out the tribe’s regulatory and oversight responsibilities. The compact also addresses licensing and provides for the monitoring of the tribal casinos by the state. This is an important issue that must be reviewed and discussed before any decisions are made about the expansion of gaming in Florida.