TALLAHASSEE — A Florida Senate committee offered a last-ditch handout to Florida's ailing dog tracks and jai alai frontons Tuesday, passing a bill to give them a tax break to make it easier to compete with the growing gambling presence of the Seminole Tribe.
The measure, passed 6-1 by the Committee on Regulated Industries, would lower the tax rate only on the 19 dog tracks and jai alai frontons that do not operate slot machines — those outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. The cost to the state: $19 million.
Promoters say the change is needed to help the companies compete with the gaming compact expected to be ratified by lawmakers with the Seminole Tribe this session. That agreement gives the tribe exclusive rights to operate Las Vegas style slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward, and blackjack and two other card games at its Tampa and Immokalee casinos.
"This is the other piece of the puzzle in trying to balance the compact with the parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward and the rest of the state," said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, sponsor of the bill. "It allows $19 million in relief and helps preserve those 26,000 jobs."
The parimutuels say that tax reduction will allow them to increase their marketing and bring in more customers, offsetting the lost tax revenue.
The bill also allows Hamilton Jai Alai and Florida Jai Alai in Orlando to reduce the number of performances per year from 100 to 40. The measure also requires that Pompano Park share its revenue with the horsemen by increasing the purses for harness races.
The measure still faces a uphill battle. It has no companion bill in the House.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.