Florida Racino Measures Seek to End Jai Alai and Racing Requirements

Posted on: April 9, 2021, 11:36h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 02:39h.

A powerful Florida lawmaker is trying a last-minute effort to allow racinos throughout the state to be free of their current live horse racing or jai alai requirement. 

Florida racino jai alai horse racing
A jai alai game at Casino Miami is seen being played. New bills in the Tallahassee capital seek to remove racinos from being forced to host jai alai or horse racing. (Image: Miami New Times)

Three pieces of legislation are set to be considered next week by the Senate Regulatory Industries Committee. The bills were introduced by Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). 

If passed and eventually signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), racetrack casinos — which only operate player-banked card games, such as poker — would no longer be required to conduct live quarter horse or harness racing, or jai alai matches. Similar to racinos that hosted greyhound races until Florida voters banned such dog racing in 2018, the horse racetracks and jai alai venues could terminate their pari-mutuel betting sports.

The bills also seek to create a five-member Gaming Control Commission and set regulations for its enforcement duties. 

As we do with other industries, we have a responsibility to ensure our laws are updated to reflect current realities of the industry, and that those laws are properly enforced,’’ Simpson declared this week.

The relevant pieces of legislation are S7076, S7078, and S7080. Time is of utmost importance, as the Senate is inching towards its April 30 adjournment.

Tribe Unopposed

DeSantis is continuing to try and find a solution to the long-running dispute with the Seminole Tribe. The Native American group in 2019 stopped sending the state gaming revenue generated from its full-scale casinos, as required under its Class III gaming compact. 

The tribe contends that racinos are violating its monopoly on house-banked table games, such as blackjack, by having player-designated games. In player-designated games, gamblers take turns acting as the house.

Simpson has suggested allowing the Seminole casinos to offer craps and roulette if they agree to resume sending in revenue payments to the state. The tribe is currently putting such revenue into an escrow account. 

The tribe has yet to reach a deal with DeSantis. It’s unknown what they’re seeking, as the tribe rarely makes public statements.  

Removing the horse racing and jai alai requirements on racinos, however, isn’t something the tribe has contended in the past. Removing such requirements is called “decoupling.”

“Decoupling and a gaming commission are two things the Tribe is not opposed to, and we think they are important,’’ said Sen. Travis Hutson (R-St. Augustine), chair of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

Compact Close?

DeSantis told the racino gaming industry last month that he was “getting close” to reaching new Class III compact terms with the Seminoles. But since then, talks have reportedly stalled.

A key issue, sources close to the negotiations say, is how sports betting might be handled. The Seminoles often contend any expansion of gaming without their involvement violates their state compact, and therefore annuls its requirement to share casino win with the state.

DeSantis said he’s open to expanded gaming with the tribe. “But at the same time, we are not in a position where we’re desperately needing additional revenue.”