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Is it “expanding gambling” to sell lottery tickets at gas pumps?

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Legislation is moving in the Legislature that would allow people to buy their lottery tickets at the gas pump despite a lingering question that the measure is an expansion of gambling.

The question is more than moral or academic: Expanded gambling is a condition for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to stop sharing revenue from its casinos. The tribe kicks more than $200 million a year into state coffers.

“Any expansion of gaming or use of lottery vending machines, beyond what is specifically outlined … will relieve the Tribe of its obligations to make revenue sharing payments to the State,” a legislative staff report said.

The Florida Lottery has not yet responded to a request for information about its involvement with the legislation. Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner was in meetings and not immediately available by midday Friday.

The bill (HB 415) was cleared this week on a 8-3 vote by the House Business and Professions subcommittee. It was filed for the 2016 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 12.

A Senate companion (SB 402), sponsored by Naples Republican Garrett Richter, already has cleared two of its three committees.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, the Key Largo Republican sponsoring the measure in the House, says it’s aimed at convenience.

“Under this bill, you could get your Powerball, Mega Millions and Florida Lotto tickets at the gas pump,” she said. Business groups and retailers support the bill.

Democrats, including state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, said they’re worried about minors, lower-income Floridians and compulsive gamblers having easier access to tickets – but still voted for the bill.

In fact, only Republicans voted against it: Bryan Avila of Hialeah, Scott Plakon of Longwood, and Carlos Trujillo of Miami.

Rouson first said he was “wondering about the impact of this because this is expansion.”

“I don’t look at this as expansion,” Raschein said. “We’re talking about the same games, the same retailers, the same vendors.”

On Friday, however, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference wasn’t so sure.

Some members were convinced it wouldn’t offend the Seminole Compact, the 2010 agreement granting the Tribe certain exclusive rights to slot machines and blackjack in return for payments to the state. Others were uncertain.

Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, also mentioned a letter the Seminoles sent this year expressing their concerns about changes such as the one Raschein is proposing.

The conference meeting was ongoing Friday morning and a copy of the letter was not immediately available. 

The legislation would require gas pumps to scan for a “valid driver license or use another age verification process” before dispensing a lottery ticket. In Florida, purchasers must be 18 or older.

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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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