Revamped casinos bill faces up-or-down hurdle
By Scott Blake
The fate of a highly controversial bill in the Florida Senate to permit mega-casinos could be decided Monday after key parts of the legislation were rewritten — including a provision that allows for local voters to approve such projects in South Florida.
The Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee may vote on the legislation during a Jan. 9 meeting in Tallahassee.
Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican and the committee’s chairman, said, after having about six hours of hearings on the bill in recent weeks, he would like the committee to settle the issue Monday before the legislative session starts Tuesday.
“I’d like to see us either vote it up or out,” Sen. Jones told Miami Today. “Either way, I think we need to take care of it then.”
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said she may ask the committee to delay the vote a week because of the numerous changes she has made.
A majority of the 10 members must approve the bill to move it out of the committee, which handles gambling and other issues.
“There’s a lot to digest and the other members may need more time before voting,” Sen. Bogdanoff, a member of the committee, told Miami Today.
Her office released the latest version of the bill this week with a list of 35 amendments. She said the bill still could undergo more changes before or during Monday’s committee meeting.
The new bill removes the referendum exemption that Miami-Dade and Broward counties had under the earlier version.
The previous bill would have required casino resort proposals in all other Florida counties to have local voter approval. The new bill puts Miami-Dade and Broward on even footing with the rest of the state in that regard.
“Those that argue that the public does or does not want gaming… the public will have the last word,” Sen. Bogdanoff said in an email to other committee members.
The bill still would permit up to three casino resorts in Florida each costing at least $2 billion, and it still would create a state gaming commission and department.
However, the new version would increase state licensing fees and the state revenue tax rate for casino resorts from previous levels, but Sen. Bogdanoff said those figures could change before the vote.
The new bill also would provide some parity on taxes and games for existing pari-mutuels, but it also contains provisions that would phase them out.
Sen. Bogdanoff said her goal is to spur job creation and economic development, boost the state’s trade show and tourism business, and decrease the presence of smaller “predatory” gambling operations in Florida.
“I think I’ve been able to maintain my original vision,” she said.
The Senate committee’s decision could influence what the Florida House of Representatives will do with a twin bill by state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican.
Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting, a Tallahassee lobbying firm following the legislation for Las Vegas Sands Corp., said: “I think the House is waiting to see what the Senate is doing.”