Jose Felix Diaz says House would “riot” over Senate gambling legislation

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State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Florida House of Representatives’ point man on gambling, said Thursday said the Senate’s current version of the Seminole Compact and accompanying gambling overhaul is “too much” for his tastes – and that of his membership.

“There’s a lot of extra slot parlors in the Senate bill,” said Diaz, the Miami Republican who chairs the Regulatory Affairs Committee. “That would probably cause a riot over here.”

The new compact guarantees $3 billion over seven years for continued exclusivity to the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack. The tribe now has the card game at its Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and six other casinos; a part of a previous agreement expired and had to be renegotiated.

But this week the Senate Regulated Industries Committee tacked on several amendments, including expanding slot machines beyond South Florida to pari-mutuel facilities, lowering the effective tax rate on the machines, and clarifying that fantasy sports play is a game of skill and not gambling.

Slot machine expansion would be tied to whether a specific county’s voters OK’d having slot machines in a local referendum. Six already have passed such ballot measures: Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington counties.

“We know there’s 30-plus pari-mutuels (dog and horse racetracks) across the state, and there are legislators that believe their people have spoken, and they’re going to fight to get those slot machines,” Diaz said after a House floor session. “Some people don’t want slot parlors anywhere near them.”

In the 120-member House “my 61 votes start getting diluted once (members) start seeing the prospect of a slots parlor in their backyard,” he said. In Florida, the gambling views of lawmakers are usually swayed by regional tastes and not party affiliation.

“There are certain counties where you could never pass a referendum but just the thought of it being out there, looming in the background, scares the bejesus out of people,” Diaz said. Most in Central Florida, beholden to the draw of family-oriented theme parks and resorts, are some of those counties.

He added he still has to talk to the Seminoles for their opinion of the current Senate position, mostly rewritten by Senate President-designate Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

A previous statement said only that the tribe “hopes to continue working with legislators to finalize a Compact agreement this session.”

Diaz’s worry about the Seminoles: “There comes a point where they just walk,” meaning billions of dollars of future revenue goes with them.

Meantime, the tribe and Gov. Rick Scott still have guns on each other in the form of federal lawsuits, each saying the other is in breach of the rest of the existing agreement.

Diaz said he was waiting on financial analyzes of all the latest proposals from his staff. The earliest the House could again consider the compact, he added, would be Feb. 29 – a scant week and a half before the scheduled end of the 2016 Legislative Session.

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.