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Casino bill still stalled in House

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The gambling bill that would allow three casinos to open in Florida remains stalled in the House after a second workshop on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.

And it remains unclear whether the controversial proposal will even get a vote in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee.

House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Doug Holder said he’s still in the information-gathering stage and is not sure whether the bill (HB 487) will even get a vote in his committee or what the next move is.

“That could entail another workshop. It could entail ending the discussion. It could entail a vote. It just depends on how comfortable we feel. Certainly at this point we’ll digest all the information we just received,” committee chairman Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said after about an hour of testimony late Wednesday afternoon.

The committee heard from proponents of the measure, including casino operators eager to set up shop in Florida, and split business industry lobbyists who spoke both for and against it.

A Senate committee gave Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s version (SB 710) its first thumbs-up on Monday. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had fast-tracked the bill and is still insisting that he wants the bill to get a vote by the full chamber.

But the proposition is in limbo. Senate Rules and Calender Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, opposes the bill and said he wants to wait to see what the House does before he takes it up in his committee.

Holder said his chamber isn’t taking its cues from the Senate.

“We’re going through the process in our way. We realize it’s a little bit slower than the pace of the Senate but we are going to vet this fully before making any final decisions,” Holder said.

GOP leaders – including all three Cabinet members – have lined up with social conservatives, law enforcement officials, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in opposition.

Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida United Businesses Association and the construction industry are all pushing the casinos, promising that the high-end “destination resorts” will create thousands of new jobs and pump untold millions into the state’s anemic economy.

And the state’s existing pari-mutuels are flexing their considerable muscle with demands for equity in taxes and games as the proposed casinos, creating the possibility of roulette, craps and blackjack far beyond the South Florida area targeted by the bill’s sponsors.

On Wednesday, casino operators tried to dispel fears that the casinos will transform the Sunshine State’s family-friendly image into a Las Vegas or Atlantic City gambling mecca.

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