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Florida House overwhelmingly approves gambling expansion


TALLAHASSEE (FBW) — The Florida House of Representatives passed by wide margins April 21 two bills to expand gambling in the Sunshine State.

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Florida Baptist Legislative Consultant Bill Bunkley expressed disappointment that the traditionally more anti-gambling House so easily passed the gambling package.

“It was a profound disappointment to watch the Florida House, whose heritage once embraced a strong line of defense against any predatory gambling expansion, vote by decisive margins a policy that encourages ever increasing gambling loses by its citizens in order to meet the annual budget,” Bunkley told Florida Baptist Witness.

“It’s a sad day indeed for the poor and others who will be easily lured and enticed to place hard earned wages on this losing bet,” he added.

Legislation to authorize a gambling compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe was adopted 84-27 by the Florida House. The bill (HB 7129), which differs from the Senate version, would permit Las Vegas-style slot machines, while require the tribe to stop operating certain illegal games permitted under an agreement with Gov. Charlie Crist that the Florida Supreme Court voided last year.

By a vote of 83-33, the House approved legislation that would lower the tax rate and provide other benefits to the state’s pari-mutuels to “level the playing field” with the Seminoles.

The Senate passed its version of the Seminole compact legislation (SB 788) April 16. The bill permits full-fledged casinos at the Seminoles’ seven facilities.

The Senate’s pari-mutuels legislation is scheduled for consideration April 22. SB 836 would reduce tax rates and permit certain table games at South Florida pari-mutuels facilities, while permitting video lottery terminals for pari-mutuels throughout the rest of the state.

Once the Senate approves its pari-mutuels bill, the differing gambling packages adopted by the two houses will have to be resolved.

Bunkley is not optimistic about the outcome.

“This is the beginning point of House and Senate compact and pari-mutuels negotiations that can only go downhill from here,” Bunkley said.

Florida House by Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) gave an update on budget negotiations with the Senate leadership at the beginning of the April 21 afternoon House session that seems to confirm Bunkley’s fears.

In remarks that are perceived to include acceptance of the Senate’s gambling expansion position, Cretul told House members, “We have informed the Senate that we would be willing to consider supporting nearly all of the proposals for additional revenues contained in their budget. But in return, the House is asking the Senate to support nearly all spending reductions proposed by the House.”