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Destination Casino Bill in Limbo After Vote

April 13, 2011 - 6:00pm

A deadlocked committee vote after time expired further muddied the future of an already-tenuous attempt to bring destination casinos to Florida.

The Senate Finance and Tax Subcommittee tied on a 3-3 vote on the measure (SB 2050), a margin that would usually kill the bill. But Subcommittee Chairwoman Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, then announced that the rushed vote had actually happened after the panels scheduled 10:45 a.m. adjournment -- meaning the vote doesnt count.

The move left supporters of the measure trying to figure out a way forward as the clock ticks down on the final days of the session.

We need to go back and regroup and figure out if we can manage to get an extra yes vote in order to move it out of the committee at this committees next hearing, said Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands.

But the subcommittee might not meet again, Bogdanoff said, though she said she would bring the bill up again if the sponsor, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, asked. Bogdanoff, who supports the measure, didnt offer much hope for a different result.

If you can count on one hand, its dead, said Bogdanoff, who joined the committees two Democrats in voting for the measure.

Braynon said he was not ready to give up on the bill and would ask Bogdanoff to give it another hearing if the subcommittee does meet again.

It needs work, he said. Ill have to make sure that I have more support on her committee, probably, before we get to hear it again.

But it wasnt clear where that support might come from. The only member of the subcommittee not present was Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales. He said after the Senate Budget Committee meeting Thursday that a bill expanding gambling was certainly not high on my radar.

Sen. Thad Altman, a Viera Republican that supporters of the measure had hoped to target, said he didnt plan to vote for the bill if it comes before the committee again.

It completely changes the whole face of Florida, creates us as a casino state, and theres a lot of concern about expanding gambling, Altman said.

He said he would like the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which handles most gaming legislation, to get a crack at the measure first.

I think its just going too fast, Altman said.

Supporters said Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, could be another target, but he has sounded wary of expanding gambling in the past. Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, gave an impassioned anti-gambling speech before the vote and isnt expected to budge.

Backers of the bill say creating as many as five destination casinos would reinvigorate the state's tourism market and add as many as 100,000 jobs to the state work force. But opponents worry that it would amount to a massive expansion of gambling and many of the social ills that come with it.

This would be the new Atlantic City, said Frank Messersmith, lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association, which opposes the bill.

The measure faces even longer odds in the House. The committee dealing with that chambers version of the destination resorts bill was disbanded by Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and his office said Cannon is not interested in reassigning it.

Asked about the chances for the House to take up the bill this session, Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican sponsoring it, said: I would say its very low.

Iarossi said supporters of the measure havent decided yet whether they might try to get the destination resort provisions tacked onto another bill, but that such a move was unlikely unless legislative leaders agreed.

This was never an issue that we were going to try and ram through the Legislature in the dead of the night, he said.

The committee did approve, on a 4-2 vote, a measure that would allow dog tracks to operate poker rooms without running dogs. Pari-mutuel owners and animal-rights supporters have backed the measure (SB 1594), arguing that the rules are preserving a dying business.

This government has bolstered this industry for too many years, said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.

But greyhound breeders are opposed to the measure, saying it will drive them out of business. Altman said it might be better for the Legislature to consider phasing out the racing requirements.

To do it overnight just seems a little harsh to me, said Altman, who joined Gardiner in voting against the bill.

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