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When evaluating Dana Young’s gambling bill, it helps to think about ‘footprints’

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In the possibility that state Rep. Dana Young’s Gaming Control Act of 2015 passes the Legislature, one thing is sure: There will be significant changes in Florida gambling, although maybe not what many expect.

First, South Florida may well become a home to two destination casinos, dog tracks and live greyhound races and slot machines proliferate into new parts of the state.

Then again, the far-reaching bill might actually reduce gambling in Florida.

If the bill is the “biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history,” as anti-expansion group No Casinos argues, how can that be?

The key is the overall gambling footprint in Florida, not simply a raw number of machines or games. One presumption is that gaming is gaming, regardless. Whether betting at the dog track or on blackjack at the casino – gaming takes place.

In many debates over gambling expansion, often the starting point is that all gaming is equal. Never mind the conversation ignores classes of gambling, as defined by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act: Class II (games of chance like bingo and non-banked card games), Class III (those commonly played at casinos, i.e. slot machines, blackjack, craps, and roulette), and so on.

That said, when counting the number of machines at a signal facility, it follows that reducing the number of eligible gaming permits and physical facilities will result in one thing – a reduction of gambling in Florida.

Missing from most conversations about the bill is this: Young seeks the removal of 12 dormant pari-mutuel permits.

The bill requires that before any planned destination resort can even submit a bid on a permit, they must have an agreement in place to purchase an active pari-mutuel. In addition, if they become the winning bidder, the resort must execute those transactions – buying the pari-mutuel permits and forfeit them to the state.

A destination resort will need to purchase, at a minimum, two pari-mutuel permits in exchange for a single destination resort license, a net reduction of one facility.

Another path for a destination resort is to buy three or four pari-mutuel permits of lesser value in North Florida. That process would result in a net reduction of two or three facilities.

Because of the bill, the overall gaming facility footprint in Florida could possibly be reduced by at least two to five facilities, and as many as 12 pari-mutuel permits.

Consider this: If passed, Young’s bill will result in an exchange of existing permits for facilities serving low-income customers, and transfer them to facilities designed for high rollers looking to spend big money in Florida.

Regardless of where you stand on gambling, that is clearly a considerable difference.

So while there will still be gambling in Florida, there will be less of it, and the quality of the product will be higher.

Young’s proposal also seeks to put any future gaming to a constitutional amendment, subject to 60 percent approval by voters, which effectively shuts the door on future expansion.

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.

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