FL House Panel passes gambling bill

04/03/09 Mitch E. Perry
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A House panel this morning passed a vote on its proposed gambling compact, a much more modest approach than what has already passed through the State Senate.

The House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review passed a proposal that would produce at least $100 million dollars in annual revenue for the state. West Palm Beach Democrat Mary Brandenberg said she thought it was premature to be voting on what she barely called a proposal, much less a bill.

But it’s only the first step towards a final bill, and thus Brandenberg supported it today in Committee.

The House bill is much more conservative than the more ambitious Senate bill, that lawmakers have estimated could bring in more than a Billion dollars annually, helping to cover education costs.

But state economists earlier this week projected a much smaller number -- more like $400 million, with the new money generated by allowing the Seminole Tribe full casino gambling. Republican Alan Hays called what came out of the Committee a good beginning, but he still could not get behind it.

In late 2007, Governor Charlie Crist negotiated a Compact with the Seminole Indian Tribes to expand their casino operations to include Vegas-style gambling at their casinos, such as the Hard Rock in Tampa.

But the State Supreme Court struck down the deal last summer, ruling that the Governor did not have the constitutional authority to negotiate the pact.

Miami Representative Juan Zapata said the Legislature could have avoided some of the issues they’re contending with now if they had dealt with it back in 2005 in a special session. He also pondered what would happen if Florida were to abdicate its jurisdiction over Indian lands.

The divisions between the moderate Senate and more conservative House in Tallahassee have never been more apparent than when it comes to casino gambling. Part of the Senate’s legislation would allow 18 year olds to gamble.

But Titusville Republican Ralph Poppell said the House was sending the wrong message by funding education with something as immoral as gambling. Poppell said the state needed to find another source of revenue for education. But, he said he looked it as a a means for negotiation.

Marianna Republican Marti Coley said she had been wrestling all week on how to vote. She said she heard testimony this week that there will be social issues that the state will end up paying for down the road if they expand gambling.

The Florida Legislature is currently scheduled only to meet for 2 days next week before taking the rest of the week off for religious holidays.

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