Senate bill 710, as changed by the Regulated Industries committee last week, would do a lot more than create destination casinos in South Florida. It morphed into a full-fledged expanded gambling bill, potentially allowing slots at any pari-mutuel facility in the state, subject to local referendum. The bill still must pass two more Senate committees and three in the house, and what you see now is unlikely to be exactly what you’ll see later, if it gets that far.
The resort licenses would require a $2 billion minimum investment in development and construction, not including real estate costs, a $1 million application fee, a one-time fee of $125 million and an annual license fee of $5 million. Gaming revenues would be taxed at 10 percent, and an additional 0.25 percent of gaming revenues would go to a compulsive gambling treatment fund.
With pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state, and legislators not wanting to raise the ire of their constituents who demand a level playing field, the bill also provides benefits for the racetracks and frontons which have played such an important role in Florida’s history. The tax rate on slots at the tracks would be reduced to 10 percent from its current 35 percent.
In addition, facilities located in the same county as a resort licensee may, subject to local referendum, add “limited gaming,” which includes slot and video gaming machines, plus a variety of table games such as baccarat, twenty-one, roulette, poker and craps.
All other pari-mutuel operations in the state are eligible for slot machines (again subject to local referendum), so long as they have conducted two calendar years of live racing or games immediately preceding their slot application. The bill also states that no new pari-mutuel permits may be issued and that any dormant permits would be revoked.
These provisions prevent anyone from establishing a new pari-mutuel operation solely for the purpose of obtaining a slot license, which has occurred in other jurisdictions. That also happened in Florida with the December opening of a controversial pari-mutuel barrel racing operation in Gretna. By receiving a pari-mutuel permit, that facility was automatically eligible for a card room operation, which also opened in December, but the owners are really interested in a slot permit, with a vote scheduled in the county later this month.
However, Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an advisory opinion last week stating that Florida law doesn’t allow slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, unless there is a specific statute or constitutional provision authorizing a such referendum enacted after July 1, 2010. With no such statute or provision to date, there can be no slots approved by referendum, she concluded.
Not surprisingly, many have taken issue with Bondi’s opinion and plan to proceed, including the Gretna principles and others going down a similar path. Expect to see a lot of legal maneuvering and court cases in the coming months.