No destination casinos in Florida in 2012

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The destination casino bill was put to rest in the Florida House of Representatives Subcommittee on Business and Consumer Affairs last month. Though a vote was not taken on the bill, the temporary postponement of such a vote likely seals its fate for the remainder of this legislative session, with nothing likely to occur before 2013.

The bill has circulated around Tallahassee since October, when Senate Bill 710 was introduced. Since that time, the 140-page destination casino bill has had various amendments added to it, and multiple versions have appeared in the House and Senate.

In its original version, the bill required, among other things, that any recipient of a destination casino license spend a minimum of $2 billion on capital expenditures, only 10 percent of the square footage of its building could be dedicated to casino gaming and that any and all types of Vegas-style games would be available for play. It would have created a central gaming regulator, the Department of Gaming Control, to oversee regulated gaming activities statewide. An identical version of the bill was introduced in the Florida House in October 2011 (HB 487).

At the initial workshop of the bill in December, presentations were made to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee by national and international casino companies, including Genting, Caesars and several others. In addition, parimutuel properties pleaded with the committee that if this bill were to pass, that they, too, be allowed parody of the games played and the rate at which those games were to be taxed. A similar workshop was held in the House Subcommittee on Business and Consumer Affairs, with almost identical presentations made by the interested parties.

The initial introduction of the bill in the Senate in January led to multiple amendments that opened the gaming options for parimutuels around Florida. For example, under the amended Senate version, any parimutuel operator, upon the approval of a countywide referendum in the county where the facility is located, could have offered full-casino gaming.

In response to the perceived gaming expansion of the amended SB 710, a revised version was offered in the form of a strike-all amendment in the House. The revised HB 487 would have closed Internet cafes statewide and revoked several unused parimutuel permits in an attempt to offer a net reduction in gaming options. In addition to the changes provided via the strike-all amendment, several other amendments were presented at the bill’s initial presentation in the House.

These amendments were far less pro-gaming than the Senate counterparts and each of the first three, including innocuous amendments that would have simply changed the verbiage of small provisions of the bill, were voted down on party lines. The final two amendments were withdrawn, as they, too, would almost certainly have received the “no” treatment. It seemed most of the 15-member subcommittee (10 Republicans, five Democrats) wanted nothing to do with the destination casino bill. Finally, after several presentations by members of the audience, the bill was withdrawn from consideration for the remainder of this session.

Which leaves us where we are now: another session likely gone with countless hours and dollars spent by proponents and opponents of destination casinos, with almost no movement of the bill through either chamber of the Legislature.

So, like many sports fans at the end of a so-so season, those with interests in the passage or defeat of the destination casino bill are left to wonder, what about next year?

— Marc W. Dunbar represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State’s College of Law. Follow him on Twitter: @FLGamingWatch.