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House to consider 2 destination casinos, new oversight

Destination resorts, greyhound injuries, parimutuel casinos, all in one bill

The Florida House wants to tackle the state's myriad gambling issues in one fell swoop.

A wide-ranging bill filed Monday would:

•Allow two destination casino resorts to open in South Florida, offering craps, roulettes and baccarat;

•Allow greyhound track operators to opt out of running any races, effectively letting them operate as stand-alone casinos;

Potentially bring a casino to the Palm Beach Kennel Club, as well as a dog track in Lee County;

•Require greyhound injuries be reported within a week of their occurrence by both a track veterinarian and the owner of the dog;

Replace the current Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with a new Department of Gaming Control, with broad powers to oversee gambling in the state.

"In my view, in order for us to be able to have a meaningful discussion of the future of gaming in Florida, our members need to see a comprehensive alternative vision,'' said Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, designated by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, as the body's point person on gambling.

The bill says nothing about extending the agreement with the Seminole tribe, parts of which are set to expire this year. If the two fail to reach a new pact, the tribe could deal directly with the federal government.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribe is entitled to offer games at the same level as otherwise allowed in the state. So, if destination resorts opened and offered craps, roulettes and baccarat, the Seminoles also would get those games.

Under Young's proposal, the two destination resorts could only be located in Miami-Dade and/or Broward counties. They would have to first be approved of in a countywide referendum. And each resort would have to pay a minimum of $175 million to the state.

Currently, the Seminoles pay about $250 million a year to the state for the exclusive right to offer blackjack at their casinos. The tribe made twice that in its Hard Rock Hollywood casino alone.

The bill would require destination casinos to pay a combined $350 million, about $100 million more than the Seminoles currently pay.

Despite the new bill, the tribe is still hopeful its agreement can be renewed.

"The tribe is still very positive about its dealings with the state of Florida and hopes to renew the table games provision of the compact because it's got a very positive benefit to the state," said Seminole spokesperson Gary Bitner.

In order to open, a destination casino would have to acquire existing parimutuel wagering permits in a complex point system. Once they had achieved a certain point level, the permits would be handed over to the state in exchange for the right to open a casino.

In this way, Young hopes the resorts will actually limit gambling throughout the state, even as it expands in Broward and/or Miami-Dade counties.

Young noted she did not necessarily consider destination casinos to be an expansion of gambling in South Florida.

"Permits could be bought from South Florida parimutuels," she said.

Young's wide-ranging bill stands in stark contrast to the Senate's piecemeal efforts.

The Senate's first foray into gambling would require racetracks to report greyhound injuries. Florida is one of only two states that does not have such a requirement.

But the Senate has few other changes to casino regulations in the works.

"Everybody knows that I'm opposed to gambling. I always have been, and there's usually three or four of us who consistently vote against any expansion – including the lottery," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told the News Service of Florida just after the Senate voted him in as president.

Other bills filed in the House would tackle gambling issues separately. A companion to the Senate's greyhound injury reporting bill was filed months ago, and just last week, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, filed a bill to allow greyhound tracks to separate racing from casinos.

Those efforts may be put on the backburner in the House now that the wider gambling bill has been filed.

dsweeney@sun-sentinel.com, 954-356-4605 or Twitter @Daniel_Sweeney

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