Florida House and Senate Florida gambling legislation

It’s a bit of a case of apples and oranges when comparing State House and Senate bills regarding Florida gaming that are now up for review (Image: State House/Mark Foley)

If you were hoping for a quick jaunt to the casino during your family’s next trip to Disney World, you might be in for a disappointment. A newly proposed bill in the Florida House of Representatives would increase oversight of the state’s gaming industry, but it wouldn’t allow for the creation of new Las Vegas-style resort casinos in South Florida.

Proposed Commission in New Bill

The bill was proposed by Representative Rob Schenck (R-Spring Hill), the head of the House Gaming Committee. The bill would create a Gaming Control Commission that would be responsible for regulating all gaming in the state of Florida, with the notable exception of the Florida Lottery. That part of the bill is very similar to the Senate bill, which would create a Gaming Control Board.

However, that’s about where the similarities end. The Senate bill would have authorized new casino resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while the House bill would leave that decision in the hands of the governor. That call would come as part of the upcoming negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which currently has a monopoly on banked card games in gambling venues throughout the state.

The House is also proposing a constitutional amendment that would require that voters approve any expansion of gambling beyond what is approved by legislators this year. That measure would be particularly tough, as it would require 60 percent of voters to approve any future gambling expansion. That’s much tougher than a similar amendment proposed in the Senate, which would also give voters the authority to limit future expansion.

The main effect of both the House and Senate bills would be to rein in the state’s gaming industry, providing it with more effective oversight. There are countless gambling issues without clear answers that have plagued Florida in recent years: from local referenda that attempt to expand the presence of slot machines throughout the state to sweepstakes parlors, the Seminole compact, and the lax regulation of horse and dog racing operations.

“We create a strong gaming commission, clean up significant and glaring loopholes in current law, and respect the governor’s role in negotiating a compact,” Schenck said. “The House also has a proposed constitutional amendment that will provide Floridians with the authority to decide future gaming expansion.”

Impediments to Bill Passage

But with several important differences in the two bills, many doubt that the Legislature will be able to pass a bill that both houses can agree on. The annual 60-day legislative session kicked off last week, giving relatively little time for the two houses to come to a consensus on how to clean up the state’s gambling industry. The time may be even more limited than it appears, as Senators say the Senate’s gambling proposal may still be a few weeks away from being debated and voted on. In addition, it’s unclear whether Florida Governor Rick Scott plans to begin negotiations with the Seminoles before the end of the legislative session.

The move to set guidelines for the state’s gambling industry comes after leaders in both houses agreed to undertake a major study on the issue last year in the wake of numerous lawsuits, controversies and pending issues.