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Senate proposes ‘full throttle gambling,’ Bunkley says

Thursday may be ‘significant day’ in gambling expansion outcome


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TALLAHASSEE (FBW) – Late Wednesday Senate gambling conferees made their first “offer” to their House of Representatives counterparts as members of the Florida Legislature negotiate their differing approaches to gambling expansion.

Meanwhile, the Senate president told reporters a deal may be a “very, very hard lift.”

Florida Baptist Convention Legislative Consultant Bill Bunkley scoffed at the Senate’s proposal.

“It’s readily apparent that [senators] are standing relatively pat on their full throttle gambling vision and showed no interest in making any deep concessions in round one,” Bunkley told Florida Baptist Witness late Wednesday evening after reviewing the Senate proposal.

“They remain committed to a massive expansion of predatory gambling, spreading its wide web across many portions of Florida.”

Bunkley said the House of Representatives should “reject this out of hand.”

He noted Thursday’s anticipated round of negotiations “may well be the most significant day in this long debate. The House will reveal just how far it is or isn’t willing to go down this road toward expanded gambling. It’s a showdown that may well produce a counter offer that could prove to be the defining moment on this very crucial issue,” Bunkley said.

If the House “remains committed to it current position,” he said an agreement is unlikely, noting that he will continue to urge legislators to “Just Say No” to “predatory gambling expansion.”

Before the gambling conferees met, Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) told reporters there may not be a resolution to the gambling issue before the Legislature adjourns.

“I thought this would be the most difficult conference committee to find its common ground,” Atwater said, according to the Miami Herald. “I have really thought from the outset this was going to be a very tough challenge to come together and make this work. … I think it is a reality that it is going to be a very, very hard lift.” Because Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) agreed that gambling would not be tied to funding necessary for the current year’s budget and any agreement would result in revenue going to the state’s reserves, observers note there is less pressure to find gambling compromise this session.

The Miami Herald summarized the Senate’s gambling offer as:

–No more craps and roulette for the Seminole Tribe, as had been the offer in its original bill.

–Only limited gambling for Brighton, Immokalee and Big Cypress facilities – with a definition as to what that means to come.

–$500 million in upfront cash for the first year; with the revenue declining to $400 million minimum in the second year and $250 million minimum for the remaining 23 years.

–Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels could seek a voter referendum to get blackjack at their cardrooms and pay $25 million to operate the games.

–Pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward could get slot machines if they get a county referendum and pay a $3 million license fee. If they don’t seek slot machines, they can obtain a historic racing games.

–Gambling age is raised to 21.

Earlier in the day when the full Senate approved 29-8 its gambling pari-mutuels bill – one part of the two-part package that includes a compact for the Seminole Indian Tribe – senators rejected an amendment by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon) increasing the gambling age to 21. Storms is a member of First Baptist Church in Brandon.

“It’s seems you have made a good faith start to our negotiation,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, the lead House negotiator told Senate gambling conferees, according to the Herald. “I understand the general direction which you’re going.”

Galvano told the Herald local referendums on the slots machines was an attractive idea.

“Referendums on tough issues are always more palatable. That’s just a given,” he said. “You can always say you’re shifting a decision to voters.”

Still, the Senate’s offer is considerably different from the House’s adopted position.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported senators will insist on blackjack in it’s negotiations as a “bare minimum.”

“Without blackjack, I think it’s almost a non-starter,” Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole), lead Senate negotiator, told the Sun-Sentinel.

Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), told the newspaper blackjack is the type of gambling expansion the House cannot support.

“It probably brings in a different type of clientele. It’s higher stakes. Blackjack is a step up. That’s a real casino,” Weatherford said.

Although not a House gambling conferee, Weatherford is second in line to be House Speaker and is a key leader in the body.

Bunkley anticipates the House conferees will make a counter offer to the Senate sometime Thursday, and he urges Florida Baptists to continue to make their opposition to gambling expansion known to legislators.