Senate panel rejects slots restrictions

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An effort to prevent the introduction of next generation slot machines – which look more like casino games – at racetracks around the state was shot down in a Senate committee Tuesday, despite fears from regulators that allowing them may put the state at odds with the Seminole Tribe, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee overwhelmingly rejected the bill (SB 986), which would have prevented the introduction of new multi-player games at existing pari-mutuel facilities.

The 3-7 vote came despite the testimony of an attorney for the Department of Management Services, Michael Martinez, who said allowing the new games could jeopardize the agreement between the Seminole Tribe and the state that gives the tribe exclusivity on gaming in exchange for payments to the state.

At issue is a new generation of electronic games that allow multiple players sitting at separate stations to bet using the same central terminal. The new games include a number of amenities to make them look more like the table games –black jack roulette, baccarat — they emulate and sometimes include cards, dice and other hands-on effects.

Senate sponsor Thad Altman, R-Viera, said the bill merely would have allowed DMS to regulate what can be offered based on what was available when voters narrowly authorized the addition of slots. The new generation of games, he contended, oversteps the authority voters gave less than a decade ago.

“When the people of Florida voted on a constitutional amendment – a very contentious constitutional amendment – do you really believe they were voting for machines that had tangible cards, tangible wheels, tangible dice?,” Altman asked. “No, They were voting for slots.”

But opponents of the ban said the new games are based on the same concepts as earlier slots and therefore don’t jeopardize the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe, which operates casinos around the state and pays millions annually for exclusivity. Under the agreement, existing pari-mutuel facilities –dog tracks and horse tracks and jai alai frontons — could add slot machines if county voters approve.

The difference of opinion remains over what, exactly, constitutes a slot machine.

“If the machine is built like a slot machine, functions like a slot, has a random number generator like a slot, it should be a slot machine and there should not be any concern that it violates the compact, said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.