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Gambling plans for Florida likely to get legislative push today

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House is poised to pass its gambling package this afternoon, giving South Florida racinos a tax break in return for at least $140 million for education.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, takes up its own gambling bill, with competing interests pushing amendments to alter or expand the deal.

The House proposal would reduce Broward and Miami-Dade racinos' tax rates from 50 percent to 36 percent in return for a minimum of $140 million in revenues dedicated to education.

The deal is less sweet for the state than it seems. The parimutuels are estimated to generate $133 million next year in cash for the state. But the bill reduces the annual permit fee the seven tracks pay to operate slots from $3 million to $2 million apiece, with the lost $7 million coming from the $140 million.

It also gives expanded games to quarterhorse tracks like Hialeah and Ocala if they run 40 races. If they reach that mark, the tracks get poker rooms and higher end thoroughbred races.

House leaders, who have previously said they were against expanding gambling, say the new games are designed to encourage investment in the state's thoroughbred industry.

Also today, the parents of a slain Florida State University graduate will continue their push to strengthen a bill establishing minimum standards for police using confidential informers.

Law enforcement groups have managed to remove aspects of the bill that they say would hinder the effectiveness of informers. The bill sponsors — Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey — have been receptive to those concerns.

But Rachel Hoffman's parents continue to press for the inclusion of the prohibition of using people in drug treatment, as well as pairing nonviolent offenders with known violent people and requiring officers to advise someone he or she has the right to speak to an attorney before agreeing to participate.

Rachel Hoffman, who went to Countryside High School in Clearwater and graduated from Florida State University, agreed last April to become a police informer after officers found marijuana and ecstasy in her Tallahassee apartment.

The 23-year-old was found dead of gunshots on May 9 after police gave her $13,000 to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, cocaine and a gun from suspected drug dealers. Two men have been arrested.

Staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Gambling plans for Florida likely to get legislative push today 04/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 4:18pm]
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