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Florida Committee OK’s Two Gambling Bills

17 March 2011 by admin

Florida-mapOn Tuesday, two gambling bills making their way through the Florida legislature cleared a necessary hurdle by passing committee votes. It is still an uphill battle for both bills, as is often the case for any gambling expansion, but the panel approval is a positive sign.

The state Senate Regulated Industries Committee has jurisdiction over all gambling-related bills, whether it is tribal gambling or pari-mutuel gambling. Like every committee in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is chaired by a Republican, Senator Dennis Jones. On Tuesday, after a hearing on both bills, the committee approved both gambling-related pieces of legislation, though one was hotly contested.

The less controversial bill, believe it or not, is the online gambling bill. The Internet Poker Consumer Protection and Revenue Generation Act, SB 812, was proposed by Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who represents Miami. The bill would regulate intrastate online poker. In order for the game to be legal, though, the player and the poker website would have to be located in the Sunshine State.

Anti-gambling groups oppose the bill, saying that allowing people to gamble online makes it easier for minors to gamble and for gambling problems to develop. Senator Diaz de la Portilla, however, says that people are already gambling online in Florida. “We’re generating revenue for the state of Florida from an activity that is currently taking place.” He also added that allowing the state to regulate the industry will make it safer for the players. The online poker bill cleared the committee by a 10-2 vote.

Greyhound_2_2006_Kalle_Valkama-739767The other gambling bill is more controversial in the Florida legislature. Senate Bill 1594 was proposed by Senator Maria Sachs, a Democrat representing Delray Beach. The bill amends current law and redefines the term “full schedule of live racing or games.” Current law requires the aforementioned full schedule of live dog races at greyhound tracks in order for the tracks to be permitted to operate card rooms. SB 1594 would amend that law so that “a greyhound permitholder shall not be required to conduct a minimum number of live performances.”

The bill, if passed, would allow greyhound tracks to continue operating card rooms regardless of how often they have dog races. Opponents see that as a backdoor way of creating casinos where they were never intended. In theory, the tracks could close all racing operations and become a card room only and still be in compliance with the law and the greyhound racing license they were granted. Senator Charlie Dean, a Republican representing Iverness, said that the bill would expand the greyhound licenses beyond their original intent.

Senator Sachs says that the legislation is necessary to save “a dying industry in the state.” She believes that the track operators have a better chance of staying in business if they can continue to operate card rooms while holding fewer races. She also states that such a change would be beneficial to dogs that may be run too often in order to keep the card room profitable.

Opponents say that the bill would destroy the greyhound racing business, resulting in a loss of jobs for owners and breeders of the dogs. Bill Bunkley, a legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, said that it’s not the role of the state to save “obsolete businesses.” He also said that “we don’t just set up what is effectively casinos for every business that fails in the state.”

Senate Bill 1594 was approved by the Senate panel on a 7-5 vote. Both bills still have many hurdles ahead of them. It is not known how much support either bill has in the legislature. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican representing Merritt Island, seemed ambivalent about both bills when asked about them on Wednesday. In addition, companion bills in the House have yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing. Still, both bills took a step forward, even if a small one, and the state of Florida is one step closer to regulating online poker.

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