Will the Florida Legislature Call a Special Session in the near future to try and pass a gambling bill?

There has been discussion of whether we will have a Special Session in Tallahassee to discuss and hopefully pass comprehensive gambling legislation.  I will discuss the possibility of whether a Special Session will be called, and, if so, whether or not it will result in actual legislation.

During the twenty years that I served in the Florida House and Senate, I learned the most basic rule of Special Sessions: “Don’t call one until you have an agreement on what the Legislature will pass.”  I can say definitively as of today that the Legislature has not reached an agreement (yet), so as of today, they will not be calling a Special Session.

There are reasons why a Special Session may be called.  There is a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution known as Amendment Three which would take away from the Legislature most authority to amend gambling legislation and would instead require voter approval of any changes.  This Legislation has been largely funded by the state Amusement Park industry (especially Disney), and has also received substantial support from the Seminole Indian Tribe.  I will write more about Amendment Three in a future blog post, but it is sufficient for now to say that many in the Legislature think that a Special Session may be their last chance to make major revisions to the gambling laws of Florida.

Another reason to call a Special Session is more basic politics:  Money.  Fundraising.  The Florida Legislature has finished its Regular Session and is not scheduled to meet again until after the November elections.  The current Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, is widely believed to be running for Governor of Florida, although he hasn’t formally filed yet for that position. His best remaining chance of substantial fundraising is from the Gambling industry, if there are discussions of having a Special Session.  The two negotiators from the House and Senate on gambling are Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva, and President-Designate Bill Galvano.  Their duties as Speaker/President Designates are to raise money for their candidates in their respective Chambers.  I regard all three people I’ve mentioned as honorable people, but the ability to raise some additional money for their caucuses should not be overlooked.

I have been told that the current President of the Florida Senate, Joe Negron, who is not running for anything and who has even discussed resigning his seat in the Senate when his term as President is up, has given a deadline to reach an agreement, as he doesn’t want this issue lingering.  I was told that the original deadline expired last week, and that the Designates have a short time remaining to reach an agreement.  As an aside, I must add an editorial comment that I think Joe Negron has been a great Senate President, and I personally would hate to see him resign and miss his last two years in office.

At the end of the day, I believe that there either will be no Special Session, or the Special Session will be unsuccessful.  They’re simply too far apart.  The Speaker, who certainly has been sounding like he’s running for Governor, needs to try and be the most conservative guy in the room to do well in a Republican primary.  That means he needs to at least sound like he’s passed a conservative bill, reducing gambling.  The Senate has been in favor of permitting slot machines in the approximately eight other counties where referendums have passed permitting slot machines, and the Senate has also been in favor of continuing “designated player games”, also known as “player-banked games”, as opposed to House-banked games.  Those at least sound like expansions of gambling, and the proposed compromise of closing down some dormant pari-mutuel permits sounds like an insufficient reduction to be seen as a reduction in gambling, if the other items are added.

Many legislators don’t seem to understand the concept of exclusivity under the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act (IGRA).  The Seminoles are currently paying the State of Florida nearly three hundred million dollars per year. In exchange for this, the Seminoles have been given statewide exclusivity on house-banked card games, and regional exclusivity on slot machines.  Some legislators seem to think that slot machines can be expanded statewide without affecting the regional exclusivity, and thus the required payments under the existing Seminole Compact.  I believe that they’re wrong.

When considering how far apart the House and Senate are, and when further adding in the affect that offering additional slot machines to pari-mutuels throughout the State would have on the Seminole Compact, I believe that there either will be no Special Session on Gambling, or, if there is, it will be unsuccessful.

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