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Gambling expansion “not in the cards,” Senate told

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter addressed the Senate Thursday, telling his colleagues that proposals to revamp gambling in Florida are dead for this session.

Although the session has just passed its midpoint, Richter said what had become increasingly clear: There are just too many moving parts to the issue.

“Comprehensive reform is not in the cards this session,” Richter, R-Naples, told the Senate.

In an election year, keeping alive prospects for opening new casino resorts in South Florida, additional card rooms at pari-mutuel facilities, and other sweeteners, has been a surefire way to assure that campaign contributions flow from gambling companies to lawmakers and the state’s political parties.

But central to any idea is Gov. Rick Scott reaching agreement on renewing the Seminole Tribe compact that is set to expire next year. Scott has been talking to the tribe. But the status of the talks have been closely guarded.

Richter fed into that murkiness Thursday.

“We can reasonable expect an agreement soon,” Richter said, although not offering any further details.

But for now, all bets are off.

“This is nothing that’s going to be accomplished by one committee in one session,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, vice-chair of the Senate’s gambling plan.

Lopez-Cantera named state’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former Miami-Dade state lawmaker and currently the county’s property appraiser, was introduced Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott as his lieutenant governor and running mate for this fall’s election.

Lopez-Cantera, 40, becomes the first Hispanic lieutenant governor in Florida history. He fills a post vacant since the resignation 10 months ago of Scott’s first running mate, Jennifer Carroll, who was forced out for having worked for an internet gambling charity accused of criminal wrongdoing.

“I am confident that we took the right amount of time to find the right person to serve as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor. Carlos’ leadership experience will make him a vital part of ensuring the passage of our $500 million tax cut package this year,” Scott said. “And his business experience and expertise in cutting taxes and government regulations will support small business growth and success.”

Lopez-Cantera said he was honored by being Scott’s choice. He also echoed the themes of Scott’s re-election campaign.

“I look forward to leveraging my experience with small businesses and government tax reform to help further Gov. Scott’s mission of economic growth and job creation,” Lopez-Cantera said.

The announcement was made at the Miami headquarters of the Department of Children and Families, where Scott also announced he will seek $31 million dollars more in DCF funding in the coming legislative session. The two men spoke to a room crowded with DCF employees and the media. Lopez-Cantera was flanked by his wife, Renee, and his two daughters, Sabrina, 6, and Sofia, 10 months.

Lopez-Cantera praised Scott for turning around the Florida economy and told that crowd that if voters could have the kind of conversations he has had with Scott  “there would be no question about the landslide we are going to have in November.”

Scott was asked more than once about the importance to the GOP ticket of a Hispanic running mate, but refused to frame the appointment that way. Scott instead praised Lopez-Cantera’s work in the legislature and also his experience as a small business owner.

“I chose him because he’s good,” Scott said.

Scott and Lopez-Cantera said their main goal is to achieve tax cuts of $500 million in the coming legislative session.

Lopez-Cantera, like Scott, tried to stay away from the question of his heritage and if that might have played a strong role in his being named, but he did allow himself one aside.

“I think there will be a bit more Cuban coffee in the governor’s office,” he said.

The political importance of his selection to Scott, trailing in the polls among Hispanic voters to rival, Democrat Charlie Crist, was made quickly apparent.

“Gov. Scott continues to demonstrate his commitment to the Hispanic community of Florida by selecting a proven leader from Miami-Dade County,” said Nelson Diaz, the county’s Republican chairman.

Lopez-Cantera was elected property appraiser in 2012 after serving eight years in the state House, the last two years as majority leader. Born in Spain, Lopez-Cantera initially rose in influence in the House under former Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami,  now a U.S. senator.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was among the first Republicans to weigh in with praise for Scott’s selection. Putnam looked back on Lopez-Cantera’s years in the state House and said they refelected a candidate ready for one of the state’s top jobs — although it comes with no specific duties.

“As a state legislator, he was a driving force in reducing taxes on businesses and consumers,” Putnam said of Lopez-Cantera. “He was a principled conservative who served Florida well during some of the greatest challenges our state has faced.”

Putnam said the new lieutenant governor, “is an outstanding leader in our state who will bring energy, passion and wise counsel to the governor’s office.”

Florida Dempocrats saw Lopez-Cantera differently.

“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the poster child for what is wrong with Tallahassee today, an ultra-partisan career politician who spent his time in Tallahassee putting big corporations and wealthy special interests ahead of middle class families,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.

A Quinnipiac University poll in November showed Scott trailing Democrat Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, by 7 percentage points among all voters — but down 15 percentage points to Crist among Hispanic voters.

Lopez-Cantera’s predecessor, Carroll, was the first black to serve in that role. But she was forced out of the administration last March for having earlier worked as a consultant to a charity operating internet cafes criminally accused of skimming cash. The Legislature soon after outlawed internet cafes and many of the leading figures in the investigation have been convicted or pleaded guilty to running a wide-ranging criminal enterprise.

Since then, a host of possible replacements have been mentioned — some by the governor’s office, which acknowledged having prepared a short-list. Still, many of those cited by the governor’s office quickly took themselves out of the running.

Among them were Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, St. Johns County schools Superintendent Joseph Joyner and Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman have been interviewed by the governor’s representatives, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, also loomed last fall as a possible lieutenant governor choice.

Scott, though, showed few signs of being hurried with his choice. Last week, Tallahassee Democratic activist Barbara DeVane filed a lawsuit in the Florida Supreme Court maintaining that Scott is breaking state law by not having a lieutenant governor.

The lawsuit was prepared by Crist supporter and veteran trial lawyer Don Hinkle. The Supreme Court had not yet taken up the matter but Scott’s desire to avoid a legal confrontation may have played some role in hastening the selection.

 – John Lantigua, reporting from Miami, contributed.

Fla Senate wants to hear from Floridians on gambling

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 by John Kennedy

In advance of public hearings on gambling planned around the state, the Florida Senate has set up a website for Floridians to air their views on the issue currently — and the prospects of bringing full-scale casinos to the state.

The first hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m., Oct. 23, at the Broward College North Campus in Coconut Creek. Other hearings are scheduled for Lakeland, Pensacola and Jacksonville stretching into mid-November. The website for submitting comments or signing up to speak at a hearing is: http://www.flsenate.gov/topics/gaming.

The site has plenty more information, including a downloadable copy of the  “Florida Gambling Impact Study,” now before lawmakers.

“Understanding local perspectives and personal impacts is an instrumental component of public policy decisions that could impact the future of gaming in our state for generations,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate Committee on Gaming.

 

Federal judge refuses to block Internet cafe ban

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to block a ban on Internet cafes sought by senior arcade owners, who say they’ve unfairly been lumped in with the predatory storefront casinos.

Lawyers for Broward County adult arcades Boardwalk Brothers, Inc., and Play It Again FLA, LLC, claimed the law is unconstitutional in part because it is vague and arbitrary and denied seniors who gamble at the arcades their First Amendment rights of association.

The plaintiffs failed to show how the law would prevent seniors from gathering someplace else, U.S. District Judge James Cohn wrote in a 19-page order.

“Moreover, there is no evidence before the Court that enforcement of the statute would force Plaintiffs out of business and prevent patrons from associating at their establishments. Instead, the statute merely limits the types of games that might be offered. And even if the statute did force Plaintiffs out of business, no citizen enjoys a constitutional right to play amusement games,” he wrote.

Cohn did not rule on the merits of the law hurriedly passed by the Legislature in response to a multi-state gambling sting in April.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill on April 10, less than a month after state and federal authorities arrested 57 people in connection with Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based nonprofit accused of posing as a charity while running a $300 million illegal gambling ring. The gambling bust also prompted former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign. Carroll had worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans while a member of the Florida House.

The arcades also failed to convince Cohn that the statute goes too far. The “state has a significant interest in proscribing the behavior regulated in the statute” and “an important public interest in limiting gambling and preventing minors from gambling.”

Seniors from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties traveled to Tallahassee to plead with lawmakers to spare the gambling establishments, arguing that the centers offer relatively inexpensive entertainment and spare them from being lonely.

Port St. Lucie senior arcade owner to challenge Sen. Joe Negron

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

From The News Service of Florida:

Brandon Cannon, who closed his senior arcade in Port St. Lucie last month after the state outlawed select electronic games, has opened a campaign account to challenge a potential future Senate president. Cannon, 26, said Tuesday he is undeterred that Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could be in line to become Senate president for the 2017 and 2018 sessions or that Negron has already amassed more than $104,000 for the 2014 election.

“We cried out to our local legislators in St. Lucie County, Okeechobee County, and further south, and we had a little support but nothing from our local representatives and Sen. Negron,” said Cannon, a Greenville, S.C., native who has lived in Port St. Lucie for most of the past decade. Cannon, a Republican who said he voted in 2012 for Negron’s re-election, was part of a group from Port St. Lucie that traveled to Tallahassee to make pleas before the Senate Rules Committee against the proposed gaming crackdown (HB 155). He said the seniors who accompanied him on the trip to Tallahassee were unable to hold one-on-one meetings with Negron.

The new law requires machines to be coin-operated and prohibits gift cards to be handed out as prizes. The law was shepherded quickly through the Legislature after a multi-state and federal investigation led to raids in March at Internet cafes across Florida and the arrests of 57 people. The investigation resulted in an abrupt resignation on March 12 of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who in the past did consulting work for Allied Veterans of the World, a charity at the center of the investigation. Two Broward County arcades — Boardwalk Brothers Inc. and Play It Again Florida — have filed a lawsuit challenging the law, calling the gaming ban discriminatory. Cannon said he is not involved in the lawsuit.

Administrative judge nixes barrel racing licenses

Monday, May 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The state of Florida erred when it licensed barrel racing at two North Florida racetracks, an administrative law judge ruled today.

Judge John G. Van Landingham’s 85-page ruling is the latest twist in a drawn-out legal battle over whether barrel racing, until two years ago typically a rodeo event, is a legitimate gambling activity in Florida.

Van Landingham’s final order is a victory for the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, which challenged the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that oversees gambling in the state over issuing the license for barrel racing under a quarter horse permit to Gretna Racing in 2011.

Barrel racing was never contemplated by the Legislature or by voters when they approved other horse racing in a constitutional amendment in 1968, Van Landingham ruled. Instead, DBPR issued the license without adopting a rule authorizing barrel racing, he found.

“Florida administrative law does not allow an agency to establish such a policy stealthily by the issuance of expedient licenses; this is equally true whether the policy is highly controversial or widely praised,” Van Landingham wrote.

DBPR spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said the agency is reviewing the ruling.

Florida is the only place in the country where gamblers can legally bet on barrel racing, where horses race against the clock instead of each other at the same time. DBPR also issued a barrel racing license to Hamilton Downs Horsetrack near Jacksonville.

“A race ‘between’ horses, therefore, is a contest pitting horse against horse that takes place during the same span of time, beginning for all with a single starting signal and ending when the last horse crosses the finish line. The horses must perform simultaneously, not sequentially, which means that they are connected, not only by the fact of being opponents, and not only by the fact of competing on the same race course, but also temporally,” Van Landingham wrote.

The ruling raises questions about not only the barrel races at the Gretna track, about 25 miles from Tallahassee, but about the more lucrative cardroom at the track. And it also casts doubt on whether the facility will be able to offer slot machine gambling despite voters’ approval of a local referendum allowing the slots.

Slot machine-like games outlawed after Scott signs Internet cafe ban

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Slot-like machines in storefront gaming centers became illegal today after Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed into law aimed at shutting down Internet cafes.

Scott signed the bill less than a month after state and federal authorities arrested 57 people in connection with Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based non-profit accused of posing as a charity while running a $300 million illegal gambling ring.

The investigation also prompted Jennifer Carroll, Scott’s hand-picked running mate, to resign as lieutenant governor. Carroll had consulted for Allied Veterans while she was a member of the House.

Scott signed the bill (HB 155) without any fanfare and spoke with reporters shortly afterward, quickly shifting the conversation to a plug for his two legislative priorities.

“The House and the Senate did the right thing to crack down illegal gaming especially in light of the Allied Veterans multi-state criminal conspiracy. They did the right thing and now they can get back to working on my two priorities for the session, the $2,500 pay raise across the board for classroom teachers and eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment so we have more jobs,” Scott said.

Lawmakers have not yet signed off on either of Scott’s legislative goals.

The new law could disrupt gambling at the senior arcades popular with the elderly in Palm Beach County because many of the machines at the centers would be outlawed.

Internet café and arcade operators say the ban could put up to 16,000 people out of work.

Scott, who campaigned on creating 700,000 jobs in seven years, called the ban “the right thing” and turned a question about the new law’s impact on workers into another plug for his priorities.

“I have a jobs agenda. Right now what the House and Senate need to be focused on is getting rid of the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. It will create more manufacturing jobs. We have less than half the number of manufacturing jobs per capita than the rest of the country,” Scott said. The tax break would eliminate sales tax on manufacturing equipment and is expected to eliminate nearly $60 million from the state treasury the first year it goes into effect and $115 million the following year. There is no estimate on how many jobs, if any, the tax break would create.

Senate Dems put brakes on Internet cafe ban…almost

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate Democrats won’t block the Internet cafe ban from rolling over, after all. The caucus never took a formal vote and several members were absent during a discussion.

Senate Democrats had intended to put the brakes on an Internet café ban that would also shut down “senior arcades” popular with elderly residents in Palm Beach County.

Sen. John Thrasher had hoped to get a floor vote on his bill (SB 1030) today. But the Democratic caucus, with the support of two Palm Beach County senators, balked at rushing the measure through instead of allowing the normal procedure to take place. “Rolling over” a bill to third reading for passage requires a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes, meaning that Republicans need the support of at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats. Despite concerns about the measure, the Democrats aren’t expected to block it from moving forward.

The House last month passed a similar version just 10 days after authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World of running a $300 million illegal gambling ring posing as a veterans’ charity.

The multi-state sting also prompted Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who was a consultant for Allied Veterans during her time in the Florida House, to resign on March 12.

Sen. Oscar Braynon called Legislature’s rush to pass the bills “a knee-jerk reaction to a federal investigation.”

A delay would have given the senior arcades, who have launched an all-out assault in an effort to get lawmakers to exempt their industry from the all-out ban, until next week to try to drum up more support. On Tuesday, the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association bused around 80 seniors, some in wheelchairs and using canes, from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to the Capitol to attend a committee meeting. The elderly patrons made impassioned pleas save the centers that cater to the elderly and where the customers play electronic games that resemble slot machines.

“There’s great concerns in the senior community in Palm Beach County. Quite frankly, if the adult arcades are not taken out of it, I may not be supporting the bill whatsoever,” Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, said during a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting this afternoon shortly before the session began at 2 p.m.

Supporters of the Internet cafes contend that shuttering the storefront gaming centers will put 13,000 people out of work. Two committees took testimony on the measure before it reached the floor today.

“There’s statistics being floated around. I’d like to found out if they’re true, that in one fell swoop 13,000 people, minimum, are going to be out of a job. This has reaching implications for this legislation. I may support it. I may not. But when that many jobs are at stake, that big of an economic impact, allegations being made all different which ways, we need to have this aired out in the open,” Abruzzo said.

Storefront gaming ban headed to Senate floor

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Delray Beach sisters Anita Silverman and Tobie Berg

A proposed ban on Internet cafes that would also shutter adult arcades is headed to the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday over the objections of dozens of seniors who traveled from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to plead with lawmakers to leave them alone.

The proposed ban, already passed by the Florida House, is a swift reaction to a a multi-state sting last month that resulted in 57 arrests and prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign as lieutenant governor. Authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World, a charitable organization Carroll consulted for while a state representative, of racketeering and money laundering charges associated with operating a $300 million illegal gambling ring.
The proposal would ban slot machine-like games at storefront gaming centers, including those that cater to seniors who testified Tuesday morning that they spend hours playing the games for as little as $20.

And, the seniors and arcade operators said, the amusement centers give them a place to and people to hang out with instead of spending their days – and nights – alone.

Many of the seniors were from Port St. Lucie. They complained that the arcades are the only entertainment for them in their community.

“We have lunch. We have dinner. We celebrate our birthday there. So if they close, a lot of us are going to be very lonely,” one Port St. Lucie resident said.

Mike Cannon, who owns Mardi Gras arcade in Port St. Lucie, told the committee that the arcades, which operate under a 30-year-old statute, shouldn’t be punished because of the Allied Veterans wrongdoing.

“You had a big scandal on your hands and we had nothing to do with it,” Cannon said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We paid our taxes. We do everything by the law and we’ve never had a problem.”

Sen. John Thrasher, the bill sponsor, explained that the measure (SB 1030) would not impact children’s arcades such as Dave and Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese.

That drew the wrath of Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association, who owns several adult arcades in Broward County.

“This is nowhere for them to go. They eat lunch together. They eat dinner together. It has nothing to do about the games. It’s their clubhouse,” Fontaine said, referring to dozens of elderly audience members, some with canes or in wheelchairs, and many of whom were clad in white T-shirts imprinted with “Don’t kill amusement centers” in red.
“I think it’s a disgrace that we will take care of the children’s community and not take care of the senior community.”

Delray Beach resident Anita Silverman, 82, traveled on a bus organized by the association along with about 80 others to attend the committee meeting early Tuesday morning.

She said she is a widow who enjoys the camaraderie of the Atlantic Arcade less than a mile from her house.

“Come Saturday night, I’m all by myself. Saturday night is very lonely,” she said.

The ban will shut down about half of the 300 American Legion halls now open throughout the state, Bob Kiley, American Legion District 6 commander, said. Many of the halls run adult arcades, but all of the proceeds go to charity, Kiley said.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved the proposal even as several members expressed concern that it cast too broad a net.

“I would like to see…a carve out just like we gave Chuck E. Cheese bingo,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The arcades pay 4 percent of their gross proceeds to the state and 6 percent sales tax, Sobel pointed out.
“They’re a legitimate business and there’s unintended consequences by putting them into a different category. I don’t think we intended to do that. If there needs to be more regulation…so be it. This is the difference between apples & oranges.”

Acknowledging that the proposal may cast “too wide a net,” Sen. Jeremy Ring chided the arcade operators for fiercely opposing previous efforts to impose stricter regulations on them.

“We don’t need to be here today. This could have been worked out years ago.
But it is here today because there has only been vehement opposition and never any proactive response to try to work together to create the proper regulations that I’m convinced do not exist,” Ring, D-Margate, said.

But Thrasher insisted the bill is designed to close a “gray area” in law exposed by the Allied Veterans sting.

“I don’t believe we’re putting anybody out of business. If… because of existing loopholes…they have moved into areas they shouldn’t have moved into…they may have to adjust some of the games that are out there,” Thrasher said. “But what this bill does is tighten up the gambling laws. I’m not going to back off.”

Ban on storefront ‘casinos’ now awaits Senate action

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Florida House overwhelmingly approved a ban on storefront gaming centers less than 10 days after authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World of running a $300 million illegal gambling ring posing as a veterans’ charity.

The multi-state sting also prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign and put the House proposal to ban Internet cafes on a meteoric track to its 108-7 passage Friday morning. A similar measure is also on the fast track in the Senate, which previously had balked at the flat-out ban and instead preferred regulation of the “casinos on the corner” that operate under the state’s “sweepstakes” law.

The main dispute over the ban centers around adult or “senior” arcades authorized under a separate statute but which lawmakers and some law enforcement officials believe also operate illegal gambling houses.

But lawmakers have said they want to shut down any storefront businesses operating electronic games that look or play like slot machines, and both the House and Senate proposals would impact both the Internet cafes and the arcades although the types of machines are different.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, argued that the senior arcades have been operating in the state for three decades and that a Broward County judge dismissed charges against one adult arcade owner accused of running an illegal gambling site.

“So here we are today going to outlaw something that has been legal for the past 30 years has been legal in the state of Florida. If we’re going to do that, what’s next? Because some people have an aversion to alcohol, do we then go back to the days of prohibition and we say you know what, alcohol’s no longer legal in the state of Florida?” Waldman said during a brief floor debate.

Rep. Elaine Schwartz, an elder family law attorney, said the arcades are a harmless way for seniors to spend time.

“I don’t see why we have to jump to making it a crime. It’s something that’s very pleasurable, something that can be enjoyed,” Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said.

But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the bill sponsor, argued that both types of strip mall gaming centers need to go. Shutting down the estimated 1,000 Internet cafes and possibly hundreds more arcades is possibly “the largest contraction of gaming” in a century, Trujillo, R-Miami, said.

“It sends a message to all the people who are out there stealing from seniors and exploiting the good names of veterans. We don’t want you here in Florida. You weren’t welcome before. You won’t be welcome in the future,” he said.

Florida House tees up Internet cafe ban

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Florida House will vote tomorrow on an effort to shut down storefront gaming centers many lawmakers believe are actually illegal gambling houses.

The bill (HB 155) is on the fast-track after a multi-state sting resulted in 57 arrests and prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign as lieutenant governor. Authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World, a charitable organization Carroll consulted for while a state representative, of racketeering and money laundering charges associated with operating a $300 million illegal gambling ring.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, raised questions about the bill’s impact on “senior arcades,” adult amusement centers that are authorized under a different statute than Internet cafes, which operate under Florida law regarding “sweepstakes.”

The measure would ban arcades from giving away gift cards and prohibit the accumulation of points, thereby limiting prizes to 75 cents per game. Also at issue is whether the arcade games are “games of skill” or “games of chance,” which are prohibited.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the bill sponsor, said his bill won’t affect amusement arcades such as Chuck e. Cheese because those games involve skill while the adult arcade games resemble slot machines. The images move far too quickly for the naked eye to be able to skilfully stop them for a win, Trujillo said.

And Democrats argued that shuttering the arcades will put thousands of people out of work.

But Trujillo said that the jobs are part of an already illegal industry.

“I think it would cost the same amount of jobs if we came up here and said that marijuana dealers can no longer operate,” Trujillo, R-Miami, said.

The Senate could vote on its version of the ban as early as next week.

No more dolla bills, y’all, under House arcade amendment

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The latest twist in the House’s attempt to shut down storefront gaming centerswould require all arcades games to be coin-operated.

That would include children’s arcades, where parents or their offspring can use $1, $5, $10 bills or use swipe-cards to operate the machines.

The amendment, filed by bill sponsor Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, would also require that the coins be inserted into the machine after every play and that prizes, limited at 75 cents, be redeemed onsite.

The House is expected to take up the bill (HB 115) and vote it out tomorrow. The Senate could vote on its version as early as Wednesday.

Lawmakers are moving swiftly on the Internet cafe ban in the aftermath of a multi-state sting last week that led to nearly 60 arrests and prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign her post as lieutenant governor.

The ban would also apply to senior arcades located mostly in Palm Beach and Broward counties and in the Tampa Bay area. At the adult arcades, customers play on cabinet-style machines and can win gift certificates, including gift cards they can redeem at stores like Publix.

Both the House and Senate proposals would ban the gift cards and stop the arcades from allowing points to accumulate. The most anyone could win after each game would be 75 cents.

House committee passes Internet cafe ban

Friday, March 15th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Florida House Select Committee on Gaming quickly passed an Internet cafe ban even though lawmakers insisted the “casinos on the corner” are already illegal under state law.

But a multi-state sting that led to the nearly 60 arrests and prompted the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has suddenly breathed new life into a ban the Senate just days ago would never have endorsed.

A new version of the ban would also shut down adult arcades, prompting concerns that the bill is too broad and is moving too quickly because of this week’s events.

“This is a knee-jerk reaction to something that took place,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who cast the sole vote against the measure.

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Tuesday, and the Senate could vote on its version within two weeks.

Casino King Adelson doubles down on Florida GOP

Friday, August 10th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Las Vegas casino king Sheldon Adelson double-downed on his $250,000 contribution to Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee by giving the same amount to the state’s Republican Party in June, according to campaign finance reports released Friday.

Adelson, who financed Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign and recently contributed $10 million to a political action committee backing presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, was among the top individual donors to the state party over the past three months, records show.

Adelson’s check to the party was posted June 4. A day later, the same amount went to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee, records show.

The Florida Republican Party collected $9 million between between April 1 and Thursday, bringing its total to almost $12 million for the year. It’s also a big bounce-back from  the year’s first quarter, when the party which controls the governor’s office, Legislature, Cabinet, and a majority of Florida’s congressional seats pulled in its lowest contribution total in three years.

The Florida Democratic Party raised almost $2.2 million in the latest report, bringing its total to about $3.1 million for the year.

Adelson, though, clearly sees Florida as ripe for casinos, with the entire gambling industry emerging as a potent player this election cycle. The Seminole Tribe, whose compact with the state would be effectively nullified by the approval of non-tribal casinos, also steered $250,000 to the state Republican Party.

The tribe also pushed $5,000 toward the state Democratic Party, records show.

The Republican-ruled Legislature has long been split on gambling — with the House overwhelmingly opposed and the Senate mostly tolerant of expanding card rooms, slot machines and the arrival of street corner internet cafes.

But the industry cash flowing to the state Republican Party also is only part of the picture.

Political committees guided by GOP legislative leaders also have been on the receiving end of big money from the industry, which then gets converted into campaign mailers and TV spots flooding Florida households as election season deepens.

House spinning wheels over Internet cafés

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A ban on Internet cafés poised for a House floor vote appears to be dead in the Senate, which likely won’t do anything about regulating the so-called “casinos on the corner” either.

A Senate committee approved a measure regulating the cafés, and would have killed a bill to ban them despite the support of Gov. Rick Scott who said they should be outlawed.

“Candidly, the Internet cafés are not a major pressing issue in our world. We’re focused on the budget,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

Haridopolos pointed out a proposal to ban the cafés would not have made it through its first committee stop and said his chamber would “take a look” at the measure (HB 3) if the House passes it.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not our major focal point. I guess some people are really excited about taking that issue on. It’s pretty low on our totem pole,” Haridopolos said.

A pair of competing legal opinions – one from the Seminole Tribe’s lawyers and another from lawyers for the cafés – say that SB 390 that would regulate the cafés would nullify a compact with the tribe potentially losing the state $233 million a year, or that it wouldn’t.

Haridopolos on gaming: House ‘led folks on,’ Internet café reg in doubt

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

It’s highly unlikely that Senate President Mike Haridopolos will get the up-or-down floor vote he wanted on a sweeping gambling bill that included three high-end casinos since the House effectively killed the bill last week.

Without naming names, Haridopolos accused GOP leaders across the rotunda of playing games with the way they handled the “destination resorts” bill that sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, asked to be put aside Friday because he knew it would not get voted out of its first committee.

“Given all the signals they were sending, what committees they sent it to, it was pretty obvious that they led some folks on and they weren’t really going to vote on it,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters this afternoon. “We saw that coming about a week ago.”

When asked if he was disappointed that the bill appears to be done for before the mid-point in the 60-day legislative session, Haridopolos reiterated that he wanted it to get a floor vote.

“Clearly with the decision made in the House, we’re not going to have that opportunity. But that’s why we have two chambers. I’m not offended by it. I think we all saw it coming. They chose to act quickly and just kill it from discussion. That’s their prerogative,” he said.

But Haridopolos stopped short of sticking a fork in the destination resorts bill, saying the Senate’s version would continue to move through committees even though it appears to be going nowhere in the House.

“It’s a 60-day session. We’ll have to see what happens,” he said.

And a legal opinion from the Seminole Tribe’s attorneys puts in doubt the future of another gambling issue dividing the two chambers – Internet cafés.

The House is moving forward with a proposal to ban the “casinos on the corner” now operating under Florida sweepstakes laws. But the Senate appears to favor a measure that regulate the cafés.

That would violate an agreement the state struck with the Seminoles, the tribe’s attorneys wrote in an opinion, and could put at risk the $233 million a year the Indians give the state for “exclusivity” in certain types of gambling.

Haridopolos called that a “new wrinkle” in the Internet café debate and said the Senate’s lawyers were looking into the issue.

“Clearly the House and the Senate are not on the same page…A majority of senators would agree with regulating as opposed to banning those facilities,” he said.

Casino gambling fizzles — dead for 2012

Friday, February 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

The drive to bring resort casinos to South Florida fizzled Friday, with the House sponsor of the measure effectively abandoning the proposal for this year.

Facing a hostile House panel — where opponents of expanded gambling said they had 10 of 15 members on their side — Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, abruptly postponed debate on his legislation (HB 489).

 With the House Business and Community Affairs subcommittee not scheduled to reconvene this session, the contentious plan is dead.

“Obviously, this is an issue that won’t go away and it’s going to be at the forefront of Florida voters’ minds when the elections come around,” said Jessica Hoppe, general counsel for Genting Resorts World Miami, which is looking to open a massive, bayside casino resort in Miami.

“This would have actually resulted in a contraction of gaming,” Hoppe said. “And the Legislature will need to take up this issue again in the future.”

 

Comparison of House and Senate gambling bills

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The House released its version of a gambling proposal, slated for its first committee vote tomorrow, that opens the door casinos in what could be a permanent game-changer for Sunshine State tourism.

While both the House and Senate plans would allow up to three high-end “destination resorts” to open, the House proposal would limit them to Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where slot machines outside of Indian casinos are already up-and-running thanks to voter approval.

The two plans (HB 487, SB 710) include differences about who could give the casino licenses, who would oversee a new gambling agency and the future of Internet cafés.

- Internet cafés: HB 487 would ban them altogether. SB 710 would regulate them, charge operators $100 per terminal and allow local government to prohibit them.
- Games: SB 710 would allow pari-mutuels in the counties where destination resorts open to offer the same games that the casinos have, meaning dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons near the casinos could have blackjack, roulette or craps.
- Voter approval: Both bills would require voters to approve the destination resorts by referendum. But the House version would only allow the casinos to be licensed in Broward or Miami-Dade counties.
- Oversight: HB 487 would give the governor and the Florida Cabinet oversight of a new agency – the Department of Gaming Control. The governor and Cabinet would also choose which casino operators would get resort licenses. SB 710 would create a statewide gambling commission that would oversee the Department of Gaming. The commission would pick the casino vendors.
- Taxes: Both set a 10 percent tax rate for game revenues at the destination resorts and would lower the tax rate on slot machines at pari-mutuels (now 35 percent) in counties where a destination resort opens to 10 percent.

After two workshops, the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee will vote on the bill tomorrow morning. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s version weeks ago but faces an uphill battle at its next stop in opponent John Thrasher’s Rules Committee.

Internet ban, in limbo in Senate, on its way to House floor with blessing of Gov. Scott and Cabinet

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are putting pressure on lawmakers to approve an all-out ban on Internet cafés now on its way to the House floor but facing a doubtful future in the Senate.

The House Economic Affairs Committee approved the bill (HB 3) this morning, drawing the praise of the Republican governor and Cabinet who want the so-called “casinos on the corner” shuttered.

Critics of the cafés, an estimated $1 billion industry which operates under state “sweepstakes” laws and are largely unregulated, say they prey on the state’s poor and vulnerable. But the café operators say they provide good jobs for their employees and a place to socialize for seniors and others.

Scott believes the store-front casinos found in strip malls throughout the state are already illegal but wants lawmakers to officially ban them.

“These store front casinos are impacting Florida’s neighborhoods and families,” said Governor Scott. “They are and should be illegal. Representative Plakon’s bill closes this loophole and I commend his dedication to shutting down these establishments,” Scott said in a statement released by Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican who’s sponsored the bill.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam joined in the chorus demanding the shut-down.

But the Senate is moving forward with a separate measure that would regulate the cafés and impose a $100 fee per computer terminal for operators. Estimates of the number of cafés in the state range from 800 to 1,400 but all agree they have mushroomed in the past few years. Palm Beach County commissioners recently barred new cafés from opening in unincorporated areas.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved a regulation measure and set aside a bill that would make the cafés illegal.

Internet café stand-off: Senate committee passes regulation, House and Scott want shut-down

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An Internet café showdown is shaping up after a Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a measure that would regulate the “casinos-on-corner” shortly before the sponsor of a proposal that would shut them down withdrew his bill from consideration.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee signed off on the regulation of the cafés (SB 380) after hearing from proponents who said the facilities provide up to 13,000 jobs and are a place for seniors to socialize.

“We have never had one, eensy-teensy, bit of crime,” said Julie Slattery, who owns two Internet cafés in Melbourne.

“This is a business. It’s a real business. It’s a form of entertainment,” Slattery said. She asked the committee to regulate rather than shut the locales to “get rid of whatever it is you’re afraid of.”

But prosecutors and the Florida Sheriffs’ Association objected that the cafés are a venue for crimes and illegal gambling and need to be shuttered.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the bill’s sponsor, rejected those arguments, noting that prosecutions have not resulted in a single conviction.

“I guess there’s a shortage of real crime out there so there’s a need to create some more so you can go prosecute it,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said, adding that traffic problems and robberies often take place at convenience stores.

“Should the next bill ban convenience stores, too?” he said.

After passing the regulatory measure by an 8-1 vote, the committee then took up a bill (SB 428) that would outlaw the facilities. That proposal is similar to one passed by a House committee earlier this week and mirrors the criminalization Gov. Rick Scott yesterday said he’d like lawmakers to impose.

But before the committee could vote on his bill, Sen. Steve Oelrich asked the committee to temporarily put it aside, fending off the panel possibly killing the measure. That would have put an end to the possibility of outlawing the cafés for the rest of the session.

(more…)

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