Inside Gaming: Florida Lawmakers Eye Major Gambling Expansion

Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood
  • A Florida senate committee quickly passes legislation to expand gambling in the Sunshine State.

  • Some want a third Connecticut casino, others don't; the Monte Carlo's poker room due to close.

This week's Inside Gaming shares news regarding a brand new bill in Florida that if passed would significantly expand gambling in the Sunshine State, reports on current efforts both for and against the building of a third casino in Connecticut, and passes along news of a Las Vegas poker room's impending closing.

Florida Senate Committee Passes Gambling Bill

Some legislative news from Florida to share as a state senate committee on Wednesday unanimously to approve a new plan to expand gambling in Florida, reports the Miami Herald.

Having only been introduced a couple of weeks before by Sen. Bill Galvano, the bill was approved by Florida's Senate Regulated Industries Committee as the state continues to negotiate a new compact with the Seminole Tribe. Among the items covered by the bill is to provide two additional casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, to expand gaming options in existing casinos, and to add slots to racetracks and jai alai frontons in other counties where voters have approved doing so.

The fact that the bill was swiftly approved without any amendments at the very start of a new legislative session is an encouraging indicator that lawmakers are serious about advancing it up the legislative ladder without delay. If it does ultimately become law, the bill's sponsors say it will enable the state "to recover as much as $525 million in revenue sharing from the Tribe this year."

"The Senate's passage of a gaming bill this early in the year is a gigantic first step," said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz who chairs the House Commerce Committee and is currently leading the state's negotiations with the Seminoles on the new compact. "The fact that we are seeing forward progress in January is a testament to Sen. Galvano's willingness to continue a conversation with multiple interested parties, including the governor, the Seminole Tribe and the Florida House," Diaz added.

A new compact had been proposed last summer, but it initially failed to get required legislative approval as Florida lawmakers disagreed over particulars. Then once the compact was amended, the tribe was no longer willing to agree to it.

The news follows a contentious conclusion to 2016 between the state and the Seminoles marked by lawsuits filed by both parties related to the terms of a new compact. Combined into a single case, Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ultimately ruled in favor of the Seminoles, thereby paving the way for the newly introduced bill.

As the Sun Sentinel explains, the Seminoles had sued the state for allowing racetrack casinos to offer "designated player games" the tribe deemed to be too similar to blackjack "which the tribe was supposed to have the sole right to offer under a five-year agreement signed in 2010." Per that agreement, the Seminoles had paid the state $1 billion over that five-year period.

The state countersued, stating the tribe had continued offering blackjack even after the five-year agreement had ended, but the tribe maintained it did so because the state had failed to uphold its end of the deal by allowing the games at the racetrack casinos. Judge Hinkle's ruling means "the tribe can now offer blackjack through the year 2030 and the state can't expect any further payments from the tribe."

The bill approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee would provide "access to expanded gaming options" to the Seminoles, explains the Miami Herald. According to the bill, the tribe would keep a monopoly on slot machines in Tampa but not elsewhere in the state, and "would also lose its exclusive right to offer blackjack in South Florida because the bill allows Miami-Dade and Broward slots casinos to also offer 25 blackjack tables."

That just scratches the surface, with numerous other provisions outlined by the bill covering other casino games, horse racing, fantasy sports, and more.

Learn more about the new Senate bill and its potential impact on Florida gaming at the Miami Herald.

Coalition Formed to Oppose Third Connecticut Casino

We'll stick with the theme of gaming expansion and Native American tribes, this time moving up the east coast to pick up a story developing in Connecticut involving the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes.

It was last spring we reported here how the two tribes — as well as the state's lawmakers — were considering adding a third casino to go along with the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. We shared how legislation to conduct a study regarding the cost of revenue of a third casino had been voted down, a move considered a victory for the tribes and their desire to move ahead on the construction of a third casino.

The two tribes had formed a company together called MMCT Venture, and had begun reviewing site proposals. Following lengthy consideration, it was announced three weeks ago that the tribes had eliminated several possibilities and "narrowed the choices down to East Windsor and Windsor Locks," the Hartford Courant reports.

However on Tuesday a new, non-partisan coalition led by state Sen. Tony Hwang was introduced whose purpose will be to oppose an additional casino, the Easton Courier reports. The 12-member group is appropriately called the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in Connecticut and includes representation from numerous churches and faith-based organizations.

At a news conference introducing the coalition, the group shared 12 specific arguments against casino expansion in the state covering both economic costs and what the coalition considers to be potential societal harms including enabling the spread of gambling addiction.

The building of an additional casino would need approval from the state's legislature, with the momentum-slowing delay in selecting a possible location having lessened earlier enthusiasm from some regarding the expansion.

For more on the coalition and their opposition to a third CT casino, visit the Easton Courier.

Monte Carlo Poker Room to Close in April

Finally, this week came word that the poker room at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas will be closing on April 25, 2017.

We haven't too many details to share other than that announcement, but it appears the room closing is a consequence of the upcoming rebranding that will see the Monte Carlo split into two hotels, the Park MGM and NoMad Las Vegas.

The Park MGM will be the larger of the two with around 2,700 rooms to the 300 or so in the NoMad. The ongoing reconstruction project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018.

Photo: "Seminole Hard Rock," Bob B. Brown, CC BY-ND 2.0.

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