Rep. Matt Gaetz’ interesting comments on House gambling bill

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Comprehensive gaming legislation, in a recently filed bill in the Florida House (HB 1383) shows how resistant lawmakers are to expanding gambling in the state.

For example, the 411-page HB 1383 does not include two controversial South Florida destination casinos nor would it allow slot machines in several counties, even in Washington County, where voter referendums approved slots for Ebro Greyhound Park.

Instead, the bill rewrites existing Florida statutes, clarifying codes and adds a state regulatory Gaming Control Commission.

In response to the most recent gaming reforms, Republican state Rep. Mat Gaetz says he is not opposed to expanding gambling on moral grounds, he just feels that it is not a strong economic development strategy.

Gaetz is chiefly opposed to destination resorts, saying he is “very skeptical” that large casinos in South Florida will do anything for his Panhandle House District 4 constituents.

“The money doesn’t sleep overnight in many of the communities where casinos exist,” he told the Panama City News-Herald. “The money is shipped off to, you know, Las Vegas or Asia.”

The House bill also fails to address decoupling, which looked to remove the requirement that greyhound tracks maintain a minimum number of races before they can operate a card room, as well as mandatory injury reporting for dog tracks.

Gaetz believes those issues are top priorities and will continue to push for them in the Gaming Committee.

Decoupling must be taken away from special interest groups, he said, which could ultimately hamper its progress.

“Most legislators — and even most industry stakeholders — agree that decoupling is the right thing to do,” Gaetz told the News-Herald.

The bill also does not have the constitutional amendment –supported by Speaker Will Weatherford—allowing gambling expansion in Florida. Gaetz said such a proposal is on the way, as he plans to introduce it soon.

A constitutional amendment “would take the power to regulate gaming away from the Legislature,” Gaetz said, “and give the power to the people.”

Gaetz is also concerned about the effect of gambling expansion on Florida’s “brand” as a family-friendly destination.

“We market Florida as a brand,” he said, “and so the activities within our state either enhance or tarnish that brand no matter where we live.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.