Measure could allow for VLTs at 20 Florida parimutuel facilities, but still faces strong opposition

The Florida Senate passed a gaming expansion bill in March that would allow racetracks throughout the state to operate Class II slot machines.

The bill, which passed 27-11, would apply to the 20 parimutuel facilities outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and would allow each of them to operate up to 2,000 machines, for a potential total of 40,000 machines.

Another bill, which passed 25-12, would reduce the tax on Broward County’s slot machines from 50 percent to 35 percent.

Deutsche Bank Gaming analyst Bill Lerner, in a note to investors Monday, said passage would be positive for gaming equipment suppliers.

It’s too soon for suppliers to celebrate, however.

Lerner also noted that the Florida House has not yet considered the bill, and that legislative body historically has been more opposed to gaming. House Speaker Marco Rubio has already gone on record, stating he will not look at gaming expansion as a way to bridge any budget gap, Lerner noted.

Proponents have said the bills would help the state’s struggling jai-alai frontons and dog and horse tracks, some of which have operated for more than 70 years, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The state reportedly will have $2 billion less than expected to fund next year’s budget. The expansion plan would allow all parimutuels in the state to operate video-lottery terminals, a slot-like machine that functions like a bingo game, with players competing against each other.

The newspaper quoted Sen. Dennis Jones, R-St. Petersburg, chairman of the Senate’s Business Regulation Committee, as saying, “The time has come to help our good corporate citizens.”

The video-lottery bill, sponsored by Jones, is projected to raise up to $500 million a year for public schools, the newspaper said. But, the paper noted, the bill, if also passed by the House, would violate a compact that Gov. Charlie Crist signed with the tribe giving the Seminoles the right to run Las Vegas-style slots and guaranteeing the state $150 million in revenues from tribal casinos per year - unless the state expands gambling outside of South Florida.

“Based on my reading of the compact, if they allow [video-lottery terminals] everywhere, then that will end our obligation to make payments,” Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told the paper. “I think that’s pretty clear.”

-Staff Reports