As expected, top Senate leader embraces casino expansion
Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter on Monday endorsed a Las Vegas-style gambling casino in Miami and indicated that the bill the Senate proposes next week will offer up the expanded games but not the rest of the state.
"There's not a chance that this legislature will consider a bill that will provide for unlimited casinos statewide,'' said Richter, a Republican Naples banker. But, he added, "I happen to think that a destination resort in Miami would be a good thing for the state of Florida. I think it will attract new revenue dollars.''
Richter told the committee that he is also open to building a casino resort in Broward and that any requirement to ask voters to approve of any new games would apply only "after this legisalture acts." In other words, Richter believes this Legislature should expand gambling and only changes that occur after this year would voters be asked to approve. The proposed constitutional amendment would be used to "approve anything after this legislative session, not as a result of this legislative session,'' he said.
House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters last week that he will not support any legislation that does not allow for a statewide voter approval of any gambling expansion. When asked by the Herald/Times what he meant by expansion, Weatherford said: "new games."
Richter said the agreement he believes the Senate leadership has with the House is that any requirement for voter approval would apply to when the industry comes back to the Legislature asking for more games in the future. "If you require something more, it's going to require a constitutional amendment,'' he said.
The Senate has long been the chamber that has endorsed expanded gambling and twice voted on bills to allow Genting and Las Vegas Sands to bid for so-called destination resorts in the past. Both measures failed to get the support in the House.
Richter disagreed that his position means he supports more casinos. "I'm not opening the door to casinos, we already have casino gambling,'' he said.
Richter, who is serving on the committee for the first time, will dictate what gets into the draft bill to be released Feb. 10 and said he will work to get a destination resort casino, as proposed by Las Vegas Sands and Genting in Miami.
"As I’ve gone through the learning curve, I would be in favor or one or more licenses that would be competitively bid -- either by the existing casino operators or the Seminole Tribe," he said.