18 year olds could gamble under compact in Florida Senate

03/26/09 Seán Kinane
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Two wide-ranging gambling bills cleared a hurdle in the Florida Senate yesterday. They would transform Seminole Tribe casinos, including the Hard Rock in Tampa, into casinos with full gambling opportunities and would legalize blackjack gambling at racetracks. They would also open all gaming to everyone aged 18 and above.

Last year the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the governor did not have the authority to enter into a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. One of the bills passed out of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries would allow the governor to move forward with an Indian gaming compact that includes casino-type games at the existing Seminole locations. Gary Bitner is a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“The Senate’s bill is fairly wide-ranging in terms of the games that would be allowed. The Governor had originally established a compact with the tribe that would allow Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games like blackjack and baccarat. Those games are actually being played now, but the Senate bill would actually go beyond that.”

Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican from Seminole, is chair of the Committee on Regulated Industries.

“We would get a minimum of $400 million a year in revenue effective as soon as the governor would sign the compact. That compact is contingent upon the passage of also assisting the parimutuel industry in Florida to compete. Just the dog industry alone and the horse industry alone are over $5 billion and over 70,000 jobs. …If they had been in business the previous two years, and run active races with a full schedule, and already have poker rooms, they would be allowed to add electronic gaming and historical racing to their menu for their customers.”

Sen. Jones insists the number of gambling locations – five to seven Seminole casinos and 25 parimutuel businesses – will not expand. But he sees Florida becoming a “tourist destination for gaming.”

“The reason this is being done, is the St. Petersburg Times ran an article that showed over 3 and a half million people in Florida leave each year to Mississippi, Las Vegas, New Jersey for gaming. So we want to keep those dollars in Florida, we want to keep those three and a half million people spending their money in Florida as well as track maybe another million, million-and-a-half Europeans and Asians who gaming is their form of recreation. And that will produce a billion new dollars for the state of Florida. And we feel that this is a much better way to raise additional revenue than go back home and have to raise property taxes on our citizens.”

The revenue received by the state would be substantial, even just from compact with the Seminole Tribe, according to spokesperson Gary Bitner.

“The compact actually will generate a minimum of $100 million to the state. And the Tribe’s projection show that as being several hundred million dollars a year, actually. … We’re talking, potentially over 25 years, a guarantee of 2.5 billion [dollars] and feasible projections that show the state might generate 10 billion over 25 years.”

Current law allows 18-year-olds to only bet on poker, horses, or greyhounds. The minimum age for all other casino games is 21 years. But if these bills are passed as written, Sen. Jones says the minimum age for all types of gambling would be 18 years.

“I think that makes it a lot more consistent with other areas around country and with gaming facilities in general.”

Natalie Mullett is the deputy director for the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, a group that released a study last summer about gambling among the state’s college students.

“The Eighteen to 21-year-old – this is our highest-risk group of gamblers that we have seen. … So I believe by changing the age of gambling, you’re opening a whole can of worms for a population that is probably our most vulnerable and most at risk.”

The bills have a long way to go before they are signed by the governor, Sen. Jones says, and changes could still be made.

“The next step in the Senate is the bill will come out of Ways and Means. The amount of money will be built into the base budget. When it passes the Senate, it will go down to the House. Then House will have to consider whether they want to take our position or come up with another position. But the bottom line is, is when we leave Tallahassee in May, we have to raise an additional $3 billion in revenue to balance Florida’s existing and ongoing budget. This solves one third of that problem. If was in the House, I would think this is a much better deal for my constituents back home then having to go back home and have them raise property taxes to fund education. And this money goes to public education.”

Representative Bill Galvano, chair of the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review, did not return our call by deadline.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida

Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling

Gambling and Problem Gambling Prevalence Among College Students in Florida

Sen. Dennis Jones

Rep. Bill Galvano

Senate Committee on Regulated Industries

House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review

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