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Surefire bet: Legislators will talk about gambling, money today

TALLAHASSEE — The 60-day legislative session is at the halfway mark, and the gambling tug of war between the House and Senate continues.

Today, the House Select Committee on Seminole Indian Impact Review meets to discuss its proposal — which is worlds apart from the Senate plan released earlier this week.

The House is proposing a plan that would force the tribe to halt its blackjack games and to offer the tribe slot machines only in exchange for $100 million a year in revenue sharing to the state.

House leadership so far isn't willing to go the way of the Senate, which seeks to bring in as much as $1 billion a year in revenue by giving the Seminoles full-scale casinos with roulette wheels and craps tables. The Senate plan, which cleared the chamber's Regulated Industries committee by a unanimous vote earlier this week, also would offer lighter games to horse and dog tracks around the state. And the plan includes a provision to lower — from 21 to 18 — the minimum age for playing some casino games.

Parimutuels outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties would have the option to run electronic slot machines that pit players against each other.

Resolution of the gambling issue is key for the weeks to come, because the plan will help determine the state's revenue picture. And until they have revenue figures, lawmakers can't finalize the 2009-10 budget — the only task they technically are required to do each session.

The Senate includes about half a billion dollars from gambling into its state budget proposal for 2009-10, while some House budget proposals released this week do not include gaming dollars at all. That leaves the two chambers far apart on revenue sources to fill the more than $3-billion budget deficit.

"It could be money for our budget, but do we want to pay for education and for health care on the backs of people losing money in casinos?" said Rep. Will Weatherford, chair of the House state, community colleges and workforce budget committee. "The Senate has, you know, thrown the kitchen sink in on their gaming position. That's their position, and we've got ours."

Starting Monday, the two chambers have another month to get closer together.

Times/Herald staff writers Amy Hollyfield and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Surefire bet: Legislators will talk about gambling, money today 03/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 1:03pm]
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