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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House sets up gambling bill, tucks in Hialeah loopholes

The Florida House has finished debate on  SB 788, the gambling bill that opens the door to a newly-negotiated gaming compact, a lower tax rate for parimutuels, and a revival of Hialeah racetrack.

"It is a way fo rthe state of Florida to share revenues it is also a way for the state of Flroida to create paritity for the other parimutuels wihtout a full-on expansion,'' said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the leader negotiator. His intense work on the legislation after weeks of negotiation brought a round of applause from the chamber. 

Provisions in the bill not only allow the historic Hialeah Race Course to operate quarterhorse racing and eventually expand to thoroughbred racing. And, after two years of operating live racing, it can open slot machines in competition with the seven other casionos in South Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

What's more, a provision in the bill allows Hialeah to lease the race tracks of either Gulfstream or Calder, because they are within 35 miles, to operate their required horse racing as it rebuilds it track -- meaning they could get slot machines as soon as 2012 if they begin horse racing in 2010.

In his House Majority report, Rep. Adam Hasner defended the gambling bills by saying it "ensures that we get the best deal for Florida's future based on the hand we have been dealt." He said that if the Gov. Charlie Crist had not entered into "illegal Indian Gaming Compact," the Legislation would not be needed.

Among the provisions in the bill:

* The governor will have until Aug. 31 to negotiate the compact and the final agreement must be ratified by the Legislature. He must negotiate a plan to collect sales tax on goods sold to people who are not members of the tribe.

* The state will receive a minimum of $150 million a year and the amount will increase, based on a sliding scale, that increases based on the tribe's net win -- which is the difference between gaming wins and losses before deducting costs and expenses.

* The tribe will not be allowed to reduce its payments to the state unless other South Florida horse and dog track and jai alai frontons get additional casino games, such as blackjack, unless its net win falls below $1.37 billion.

* Slot machine operators in Miami-Dade and Broward will have their tax rates decline from 50 percent to 35 percent with a guarantee that their tax revenue to the state wil not drop below the estimated $117 million that was collected in 2008-09.

* The tribe will contribute 3 percent of its revenue sharing with local governments to offset the impact of casinos. 

* Two tracks within 35 miles of each other can share an intertrack wagering signal.

* Every facility that operates slot machines must pay $250,000 a year into a fund to subsidize treatment for compulsive gamblers

* Closed jai alai facilities, such as one in Mangonia Park, Daytona Beach and Palm Beach, could re-open to operate greyhound racing and then card games and intertrack wagering.

* The tribe must maintain a central computerized reporitng and auditing system and comply with the same state regulations that other pari-mutuels follow.

* Closes the quarterhorse loophole, by shutting the door on most new quarterhorse permits, and allows them to operate thoroughbred races 50 percent of the time. This provision will help Hialeah and allow it to eventually convert its quarter horse permit to a thoroughbred permit.

* South Florida slot machine operators will see a gradual reduction in their license fees from $3 million to $2 million.

* There will be no-limit poker, including removal of wager limits for traditional poker and removal of buy-in limits for Texas-Hold-em in card rooms. Palm Beach County Kennel Club has already announced it will build a new card room as a result.

* The gambling age will increase from 18 to 21. Card room hours will be extended from 12 to 18 hours Monday through Friday and 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 6:59pm]

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