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Cabinet member's spouse to stop gaming lobbying

Education Commissioner Betty Castor's husband, a former lawmaker, will quit lobbying for a gaming firm after failing to disclose he was hired to lobby for the Rhode Island company.

Sam Bell, a former House leader who has close ties to House Speaker T.K. Wetherell and other leading Democrats, said he wasn't trying to conceal his involvement with GTECH Corp., which favors a bill setting up video lottery machines at race tracks and other pari-mutuel facilities.

"There was certainly no intention to hide anything," Bell said. "Frankly, I thought it had already been filed."

Bell didn't register until Wednesday, after a reporter questioned him, the Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday. But he, two other GTECH lobbyists and company president Guy Snowden met Wednesday to discuss the video lottery issue with Lottery Secretary Marcia Mann.

"We see this white limo coming in, thinking it was a (lottery) winner," Mann said.

GTECH is the world's largest lottery computer corporation. The video lottery machines are games of chance in which winners cash a ticket to collect prize money.

Under a bill supported by Wetherell, the Lottery Department would control video gambling machines at pari-mutuel facilities. That bill has been combined with a measure allowing betting on sports, also at pari-mutuel venues.

Castor has come out strongly against sports betting but has taken no position on the video gambling. Bell said he decided to quit lobbying for GTECH because of the combination.

"I probably should not have gotten involved in the first place because of Betty's strong position on sports betting," Bell said.

Bonnie Williams, executive director of the Ethics Commission, wouldn't say whether Bell might have violated ethics laws by failing to register on time.

"We may end up having to do something on this," she said. "He has to register before he actually lobbies."

Bell is registered to represent 20 clients before the Legislature, including the Florida Petroleum Council, Universal Studios, the Wine Institute and the cities of Orlando and Daytona Beach.

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