When legislators are called back to work later this month to ratify a freshly signed contract governing gambling in the state, they’ll also consider three bills that deal with other gaming laws.
Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed to a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe on Friday, April 30. A major provision of the compact opens the state of Florida to sports betting.
The compact is subject to approval by the Legislature, but with only a week left in the Regular Session there is not enough time to add it to the agenda.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, in an announcement made from the House floor after the compact was signed, said the Legislature will convene for a Special Session May 17 to ratify the compact.
Also pushed to the Special Session will be three gaming bills. Two of the bills would establish a gaming commission, and the third removes the live racing requirement for certain gaming permit holders.
The bills had already worked their way through the committee process with unanimous approval and were sitting on the Senate calendar. Amid rumors of the new gaming compact, the bills were temporarily postponed.
Senate President Wilton Simpson reasoned in a memo that the gaming bills should be swept to the Special Session so the Legislature “can discuss and address the future of gaming in our state in a more comprehensive manner at that time.”
The Senate bills originated in the Regulated Industries Committee. Sen. Travis Hutson chairs that committee.
Hutson said during the committee process the bills were designed to work with or without an agreement with the Seminole Tribe. He told Florida Politics Friday that even though the new deal covers sports betting, which would mark a significant expansion of gaming in Florida, the bills should not change much.
“There may be an edit or two since the Governor signed the compact, but they can go on their own merits,” Hutson said.
Simpson, in his memo, indicated support for the bills as he did when he announced the legislation mid-Session.
“In my view, we have a responsibility to update our laws to reflect current realities of this heavily regulated industry and to ensure those laws are properly enforced,” Simpson said.
The sports-betting arrangement in the proposed compact is aimed at complying with a 2018 constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, that requires statewide voter approval for future expansions of gambling. The amendment was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters.
The proposed compact also addresses controversial “designated player” games, which have been a major sticking point in previous attempts at sealing a deal. The compact signed Friday would recognize that designated player games do not breach the tribe’s exclusivity but would constrain the card games to their current footprint and would not accommodate any significant expansion of the games.
Based on the current legislation (SB 7076), the way the state plans to enforce gaming laws is through a new Florida Gaming Control Commission, which would reside within the Office of the Attorney General.
The five-member committee would have law enforcement authority over gaming laws like unauthorized gambling. The commission is required to have an experienced attorney, accountant and law enforcement officer included.
Members would be appointed to four-year terms by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Each member would make $136,000 a year, an amount based on the salaries of other public service commissions, according to a staff analysis.
Details of the Gaming Control Commission’s criminal investigations would be kept out of the public eye under a public records exemption bill (SB 7078).
A third piece of gaming legislation (SB 7080) will be closely watched by the harness horse racing community. A representative for that community testified during committee hearings to say the new law would have a negative impact on their industry.
The bill would remove parts of a law governing pari-mutuel permit holders, including harness racing, quarter horse racing and jai alai. Current Florida law requires a certain level of live racing or competition for pari-mutuel wagering to take place. If the bill is passed, decoupling would be allowed, which means race tracks could still allow gaming like slot machines even if no live racing is taking place.
The harness horse racing representative said decoupling makes live racing less important to race tracks and could have a negative impact on their industry.
The thoroughbred horse racing community had the option to decouple but decided not to in order to keep the thoroughbred horse racing industry from eroding.
Haley Brown is a capitol reporter for FloridaPolitics.com. Her background includes covering the West Virginia Legislature for a regular segment on WVVA-TV in Bluefield called Capitol Beat. Her reporting in southern West Virginia also included city issues, natural disasters, crime, human interest, and anchoring weekend newscasts. Haley is a Florida native. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.