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On February 10th, 2014, the Florida Senate Gaming Committee met to discuss a draft of an upcoming gaming reform bill that is expected to be introduced during the 2014 legislative session.
Video of the meeting is embedded at the end of the article.
Last year Florida paid a consulting firm $400,000 to complete a report that examined Florida’s gaming industry.
The legislature is now expected to introduce a comprehensive bill that will amend Florida’s current gaming laws based on suggestions in this report.
During the February 10th meeting Senator Richter, the chair of the committee, presented an outline of the current draft of the bill and took questions and comments from the other committee members.
The bill is expected to create a gaming commission that will oversee all forms of gaming in Florida other than the lottery.
It is also expected that the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which currently regulates all the poker rooms, horse and dog racing, and slot machine facilities would be moved into the new gaming commission and the current statutory framework would be updated to facilitate this move and possibly include new gaming activities.
During this meeting the committee discussed several gaming issues that they thought should be included in the bill. Topics ranged from legalizing destination casinos to advance deposit wagering and online poker.
Several of the senators discussed the possibility of addressing online poker in this bill and specifically mentioned that it was a game of skill that was fundamentally different than other forms of gaming but did not sound optimistic that it would be included in the bill.
A bill this size will be very difficult to pass.
During the last few weeks the legislature has expressed mixed feelings towards any changes in Florida gaming. Due to the upcoming elections this year some feel that nothing substantial will be done.
Others feel that the only way anything will be done is if a compromise is made with those that are opposed to increasing gaming.
One of the compromises being discussed would be the creation of a constitutional amendment that would require a referendum vote before any change in gaming can occur.
This would essentially take all gaming issues out of the hands of the legislature and instead place it in the hands of the public, making it much more difficult for smaller issues like online poker to be legalized.
The Senate Gaming Committee is expected to have this bill finished by February 24th.
If a bill passes that includes a constitutional amendment but does not include online poker it is unlikely that online poker will be legalized in Florida anytime in the near future.
Stakeholders concerned with online poker in Florida should take the time to contact the Senate Gaming Committee and let them know that online poker is an important issue that should be included in the bill.
The legislative session begins March 3rd. OPR will provide updates as the session progresses.