House and Senate Tries to Find Middle Ground With Gaming Compacts

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House and Senate Tries to Find Middle Ground With Gaming Compacts

On April 29th, 2009, slot machines and blackjack games in Palm Beach County are suddenly in the middle of the gaming negotiations between the Senate and House of Representatives over the new gaming rules for Florida. In their initial bid to the House, Senate officials proposed that the counties near Miami-Dade and Broward be permitted to host Class III slot machines if voters will allow them. Then for an annual fee, counties that host slot machines could also feature blackjack. It also removes any cap on poker including Texas Holdem poker.

This is the first time that the idea of featuring high stakes card games outside of Broward and Miami-Dade has been proposed. Under the gaming proposal, Miami-Dade and Broward County horse and dog racing tracks could also offer blackjack. The establishments must pay $25 million the first year to offer the games and $3 million the following year.

The game of craps and roulette, which is previously included in the Senate's gaming plan that will allow for full blown casino gambling expansion in Florida in exchange for a bigger portion of revenue for the state, were remove from the compact, a move that is welcome by their House counterparts.

But included in the offer is a referendum question that, if approve, would help the Palm Beach Kennel Club, whose gaming lobbyists and owner Pat Rooney Sr. have been a solid presence in the Capitol over the past few weeks. The possibility of slot machines and card games like blackjack in Palm Beach County was not part of either chamber's gaming proposal. The Kennel Club also offers a card room.

House gaming committee chairman Bill Galvano said that he is happy that the House and Senate have a good start. The negotiators do not have a simple task. They are trying to reach a good agreement with the Seminoles, placate horse and dog racing track operators in South Florida and give a hand to pari-mutuels in the state. Personal differences about gaming between the House and more moderate Florida Senate raised questions about whether an agreement can be finalized before the end of the session.

Under the Senate gaming plan, the Seminole tribe would pay Florida $500 million in the first year to continue offering blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer at their Hard Rock casino facilities near Hollywood and Tampa. But they would only limited card games at the Brighton, Immokalee and Big Cypress casinos. The Seminoles would have to pay $400 million the 2nd year and $250 million in years three to twenty-five. The tribe would also need to pay twenty-five percent of their earnings above $2.5 billion annually.

The racing tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade county would: see their yearly tax rate on slot machine revenues cut down from fifty percent to forty-five percent in the first year, to forty percent the second year and thirty-five percent the third year and after. Racing tracks will also get the opportunity to offer blackjack if they pay the state $25 million the first year and $3 million a year after that. Tracks will also receive simulcast racing and get a cheaper agreement if voters will allow it.

Tracks would have to pay $500,000 per gaming machine with a maximum of 2,000 machines per gaming establishment if voters allow it or $300,000 per machine with a maximum of 3,000 machines per establishment for counties without referendum. As part of the agreement, Hialeah Park would reopen to customers, phased into thoroughbred racing and slot machines. Galvano said that placing extra games, including slot machines before voters could improve the agreement for the House.


John O'Haver