Palm Beach County inched closer toward becoming slot-friendly on Monday.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, told fellow members of the Senate Committee on Gaming that she is amending a sweeping bill that would add two casino resorts to South Florida. She wants the six counties that have recently passed nonbinding referendums for slots to be permitted to join Broward and Miami-Dade counties in offering them at dog tracks, horse tracks and jai-alai frontons.
“I’ve been doing some serious thinking, and I bet on this great state of Florida,” she said. “And I’m very proud to represent counties that have done very well with pari-mutuels.”
The counties in which voters voiced support for slots are Palm Beach, Gadsden, Washington, Lee, Hamilton and Brevard. The lone operating pari-mutuel in Palm Beach County is the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach.
About 56 percent of Palm Beach residents voted in favor of slots in a November 2012 referendum. The vote was nonbinding because slot machines are legal only by constitutional amendment or by legislative approval, which Sachs is seeking.
Palm Beach County leaders have reasoned that slot machines can be found just across the Broward County line — at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and the Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Beach — and those businesses say about one-third of their revenues come from Palm Beach. Supporters argued that tax revenue from Palm Beach gamblers should stay at home.
Sachs’ amendment is in the drafting process and will be made public in a couple of days, her office said. Sachs was unavailable for comment following the meeting.
Committee chair Garrett Richter, R-Naples, filed a 453-page bill that would allow one hotel-casino each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. An actual vote will not take place for about a month, he said, because several amendments are expected, including one that would lower the current slot tax from 35 percent to about 15 percent and another that would allow pari-mutuels to offer all casino games, and not just slot machines. Currently, the Seminole Tribe of Florida holds exclusive rights to blackjack, baccarat and some other games. No venue can offer roulette or craps.
Richter compared the bill to an airplane. “It’s apparent from the materials that the heavy lifting is now clearly in front of us, and we have the work cut out for us,” he said. “We’ll begin at 50,000 feet and bring it down and bring it down and bring it down. When will we get it on the runway? It might be the third or fourth week.”
There is no companion bill in the House, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he will accept the least amount of gambling expansion possible in order to get the Senate to go along with the bill, which requires any subsequent gambling expansion to be approved via constitutional amendment. The last destination casino bill died in the Senate committee in 2012.