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TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—As the Florida Legislature enters
its final two weeks of the annual legislative session a major expansion of
gambling is getting closer to reality, while Florida Baptist Convention
legislative consultant Bill Bunkley is urging legislators to “Just Say No” to
all gambling bills.
Both legislative chambers are in the process of considering
two components of gambling—legislation to authorize a new compact with
the Seminole Indian Tribe and bills that would provide certain incentives for
the state’s pari-mutuel facilities to “level the playing field” with the
Seminoles’ newly enhanced gambling options.
The gambling legislation is closely connected to the
Legislature’s work on the state budget and pro-family leaders fear gambling may
become a bargaining tool in the waning days of the session as the Senate and
House are not in agreement on the appropriate remedy to meet a $3 billion
The Senate, which passed its version of the Seminole compact
April 16, provides greater expansion to the gambling industry in its bills, but
pro-family leaders are also concerned about the expansion offered in the House
bills for the Seminoles and pari-mutuels.
The Senate passed the Seminole gambling compact 27-11 with
virtually no debate. The bill (SB 788) offers full-fledged casinos to the
Tribe, including games that are currently illegal, in exchange for a promised
$400 million per year for public education funding.
The compact was opposed by Republicans Carey Baker (Eustis),
Lee Constantine (Altamonte Springs), Victor Crist (Tampa), Andy Gardiner
(Orlando), Steve Oelrich (Gainesville), Durell Peaden
(Crestview), Ronda Storms (Brandon) and Stephen Wise (Jacksonville),
and by Democrats Dave Aronberg (Greenacres), Dan Gelber (Miami Beach)
and Gary Siplin (Orlando).
The Senate’s gambling package is sponsored by Sen. Dennis
In addition to the compact legislation, SB 836 would reduce
tax rates and permit certain table games at South Florida pari-mutuel
facilities, while permitting video lottery terminals for pari-mutuels
throughout the rest of the state.
It’s anticipated the Senate will consider the pari-mutuels
bill April 22.
(This story went to press April 20. For coverage of later
developments, please visit www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.)
Having engaged in preliminary consideration of its gambling
package April 17, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bills
on or about April 21.
The House pari-mutuels bill, HB 7145, sponsored by Rep. Bill
Galvano (R-Bradenton), chairman of the Select Committee on Seminole Indian
Compact Review, passed April 13 with only four dissenting votes on the
20-member committee. The bill is tied to the panel’s Seminole compact bill (HB
7129), requiring ratification of the compact before the pari-mutuel provisions
can be implemented.
Although less aggressive than the Senate version, other
features of the House pari-mutuels bill drawing concern among pro-family
advocates—who label the bill gambling “expansion,” contrary to Galvano’s
view because it does not include new games—include:
•reduction in the tax rate from 50 to 36 percent;
•eliminating current restrictions which allow card rooms to
operate only 12 hours per day and expanding hours to 24 hours per day;
•raising betting limits for poker from $5 to $50 and for
“Texas hold ‘em” games from $100 to $1000;
•reduction in the annual license fee to $2 million from $3
The Select Committee adopted legislation for a new Seminole
gambling compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe April 3.
Meanwhile, Palm Beach Post reported April 15 Gov. Charlie
Crist has re-opened negotiations with the Seminole Tribe for a new gambling
The Post reports the prospective new compact—which the
governor hopes the Legislature will consider before the end of the
session—would require greater payments from the Tribe in exchange for the
same package of games permitted under the original compact voided by the Florida
Supreme Court last year.
Miami Herald reported April 18 the Seminoles may lend the
state $800 million “in upfront cash” as part of the compact in order to allow
lawmakers to avoid passing a $1 billion increase on tobacco taxes.
Florida Baptists’ Bunkley says the final weeks of the session
are a “complicated chess match. Months of talk, speculation and positioning
have set the stage for a showdown where Florida legislators will decide the
next chapter in Florida’s dependence on gambling loses.”
In the midst of legislative horse-trading, Bunkley told
Florida Baptist Witness he will continue to press “the case to our legislators
that the only responsible option is to “Just Say No” to the false allure of
utilizing any and all gambling proceeds to fund the state’s business.”
He urged Florida Baptists: “Please call your state
representative and senator and tell them to “Just Say No” to any new gambling
Concerning several other matters of concern to Florida
Baptists, Bunkley said legislation to require ultrasounds for women seeking
abortions in the first trimester (HB 983/SB 1854) is dead because there were
not enough votes to even get a hearing in a Senate committee.
“We will not be deterred and anticipate it will be back next
year,” Bunkley said of the ultrasound legislation.
In contrast, there is some hope that legislation (HB 1185/SB
2310) that would bolster pre-marital education may be considered.
The bill “has traveled well in both the House and Senate
committees and now must get on each respective calendars to be debated in both
chambers,” Bunkley said. “It is not without opposition so we will be working to
insure that legislators understand the positive benefits informed couples can
derive from getting properly prepared for holy matrimony.”