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House sees Senate on gambling bill, raises the ante

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The House amended the Senate’s gambling measure with its own bill Tuesday, setting up the legislation for conference.

The difference between the two chambers’ approach was set up by Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

He said the House effort “erects a firewall against the expansion of gaming in the future,” adding there would be “no more loopholes.” 

With the Senate OK with some gambling expansion, the stark contrast has led House Speaker Richard Corcoran to call a compromise this year “a heavy, heavy lift” and Sen. Bill Galvano to say he “couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Tom Goodson, a Rockledge Republican, noted that the House bill constrains pari-mutuels outside South Florida from having slot machines even where they’ve been approved in a local referendum.

Counties, such as Gadsden in north Florida, have long wanted slots and other gambling to boost their local economies.

“Do you have any consoling words for them?” Goodson asked.

La Rosa wouldn’t bite, saying expanding gambling “is not an economic development tool … there’s a very limited market share.”

Both bills include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million, Galvano has said.

Another difference: The House bill takes that money and applies it toward education; the Senate wants it for general revenue.

The House meets again Wednesday, when the legislation could be finally voted on.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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