State Politics

Committee gives gambling ‘Christmas tree bill’

TALLAHASSEE — In less than an hour Wednesday, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee authorized $1 billion in expanded gambling in Florida, allowing the governor to negotiate a compact with the Seminoles that gives them roulette wheels and craps tables and gives lighter-fare games to horse and dog tracks around the state.

“Don’t kid yourself. We are a gaming state, so why wouldn’t we want to be the cream of the crop rather than losing citizens going somewhere else?” said Sen. Dennis Jones, the sponsor of the two bills and chairman of the committee.

Committee members did not debate before unanimously approving the proposal to give the state’s 25 parimutuel facilities new gaming options. On the plan to give the Seminole Tribe full-fledged casinos, only Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-West Palm Beach, voted no.

The two proposals, which are designed to move through the process in tandem, were so loaded with changes long-sought by the state’s gambling industry that one lobbyist called it a “Christmas tree bill.”

Included is a plan to lower the legal gambling age from 21 to 18, give parimutuels outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties the option to run electronic slot machines that pit players against each other and allow parimutuels to offer racing games in which people bet on the outcomes of past, unidentified horse races.

The Senate bill also would reduce the tax rate on slot machine gaming from 50 percent to 35 percent and provide that the payout be no less than 85 percent at all facilities.