A sweeping rewrite of Florida’s gaming laws proposed by a Bradenton politician would be a blessing for an area staple.
Sarasota Kennel Club Dog Racing, which has operated a dog track in Sarasota since 1929, is one of the locations across Florida that could be permitted to have slot machines, if Sen. Bill Galvano’s bill is approved.
The family of Jack Collins Jr., the president of the Sarasota Kennel Club, has operated the facility since 1944, and Collins has seen firsthand the changing fiscal realities for dog tracks in recent decades. Galvano’s proposal would allow dog tracks in at least eight counties to open slot parlors and end the requirement that facilities that offer live gambling, such as poker rooms, also offer live racing or, in the case of jai-alai frontons, live matches.
“It’s gotten to the point now that everyone is in favor of decoupling,” Collins said, referring to the proposed discontinuing of the live racing requirement.
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In an interview with the Herald/Times, Galvano said of ending the live racing requirement: “That’s more a product of the economy and entertainment choices than anything else.”
That decoupling language is perhaps the most important part of the proposal for the SKC. The measure would also appease both the owners of such venues, and the animal rights groups that have protested the horse and dog tracks.
Other provisions include the regulation and permitting of fantasy sports and the creation of an opening for Malaysian company Genting to build a resorts casino in Miami.
It would be nice to cut down.
Jack Collins Jr., Sarasota Kennel Club president, on daily dog racing
While fantasy sports have enjoyed a rapid rise in recent years, the dog racing industry has been in decline. More and more of the SKC’s annual revenue comes through its poker room rather than dog racing. Galvano’s proposal would open up another revenue stream, slots, and allow tracks like the Sarasota Kennel Club to better compete with the Seminole Tribe of Florida casinos to the north.
“As it is now,” Collins said, “we have no shot.”
However, it would also create the possibility Florida’s greyhound tracks would cease offering live racing. Collins said he would like to reduce the amount of live racing at the Sarasota facility, particularly before Christmas. This season, live racing began Nov. 4 and is scheduled to continue through April 22.
Collins has spent the week since Galvano offered his initial proposal reading through the 112-page bill. He doesn’t expect it to pass in its current form, but he trusts Galvano more than any other state senator to figure out an option that works.
Galvano became president of the National Conference of Legislators from Gaming States earlier this month. He previously led negotiations for Florida’s current gaming contract with the Seminole Tribe. He is the Senate’s lead negotiator for the issue once again this year.
“He’s a very fair and knowledgeable person,” Collins said, “probably the most knowledgeable person in the Senate when it comes to gaming.”
The senator told the Herald/Times he views the bill as the state’s opening offer in its negotiations with the Seminole Tribe. He filed the measure nearly two months before the start of the legislative session because he hopes lawmakers and the Seminole Tribe can reach a consensus in time to include the potential additional $250 million in revenue in this year’s budget.
The state’s current gambling agreement was agreed upon between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe in 2015 and grants the Tribe exclusive rights to slot machines outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties. If Galvano’s proposal is eventually passed, slots could expand to additional counties via local referendums beginning in 2018.