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House casino bill sponsor proposes changes to reduce gambling options

TALLAHASSEE — The House sponsor of the bill to bring three mega-resort casinos to Florida unveiled a series of amendments Wednesday to make the measure more palatable to his conservative, anti-gambling colleagues.

The changes by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, are designed to "scale back existing gaming and ensure there is no additional gaming," he said.

But while Fresen's changes are designed to limit the expansion of gambling in Florida, the state Senate went the opposite direction last week when it adopted amendments to a similar bill by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff that opened the door to Las Vegas-style slot machines in every horse and dog track and jai-alai fronton in the state, as long as voters approve.

Under Fresen's proposal, the state would authorize three destination resort casinos and, like the Senate bill, allow them only if voters approve in a countywide referendum.

Bogdanoff's bill, however, would allow for the three resort casinos to operate in any part of the state that can win voter approval.

Fresen's amendments would also permanently ban the so-called Internet cafes and maquinitas parlors that rely on a loophole in the state's sweepstakes law to operate slot machine look-alikes — a contrast to Bogdanoff's bill which would regulate the games.

Another amendment would also prohibit the state from issuing any new parimutuel permits, repeal the 17 dormant pari-mutuel permits now in existence, and would use the proceeds from the casino taxes to buy back permits from up to four existing parimutuels.

Fresen also proposes an amendment to give the state's existing parimutuels the same 10 percent tax rate on their slot machine games as the new destination resort casinos, once the resort casinos open.

"The crux of these amendments is to address some of the desires and some of the concerns expressed by members,'' Fresen said.

The bill sponsors continue to look as if they face an uphill climb to win agreement on the plans this session. House Speaker Dean Cannon has repeatedly said he's skeptical that the resort casino bill would pass the House, where a majority of members want to reduce gambling options in Florida.

In the Senate, most senators appear to want to see gambling expanded for parimutuel operators.

Fresen said his bill, HB 487, will get its first hearing in the Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, in the next two weeks.

While Bogdanoff's bill has moved through its first committee in the Senate, Fresen's nearly identical proposal has remained in limbo in the House despite heavy lobbying by the gaming industry and an influx of more than $2 million in campaign cash into Republican Party of Florida coffers, including $628,000 from the Malaysian-based Genting alone.

"The pace of movement of all bills in the House is much slower than in the Senate,'' Fresen said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter@MaryEllen Klas.

House casino bill sponsor proposes changes to reduce gambling options 01/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 11:02pm]
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