Florida Senate unveils scaled-down gambling bills with no sports betting

Skyler Swisher, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·2 min read

Sports betting isn’t on the table in scaled-down gambling legislation unveiled Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

A trio of gambling bills omits another closely watched item — gambling license “portability” that could allow betting at former President Donald Trump’s golf club in Doral and the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, according to a memo from Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Billionaire real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer has been pushing to transfer a gambling license from Hallandale Beach’s Big Easy Casino to the Fontainebleau Resort, which is owned by his family.

That proposal also spurred speculation that Trump National Doral could be transformed into a gambling destination with Eric Trump, the former president’s son, floating the idea to the Washington Post.

The legislation that will be considered in committee Monday would create a five-member, governor-appointed Gaming Control Commission with law enforcement authority over gambling laws.

The legislation also would allow pari-mutuel permit holders to operate card rooms without having to also offer jai-alai, harness or quarter horse racing. This is known as “decoupling.”

A 2004 voter referendum allowed slot machines at “existing” Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

That decoupling change could be useful for Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park, where a major redevelopment is planned. The plan calls for transforming the property into an upscale retail, dining, office and entertainment hub. The 233-acre property has been home to a harness racetrack since 1964.

Gambling policy in Tallahassee is typically hashed out behind closed doors and is dominated by special interests that have big money at stake. Talks have been underway for some time on an elusive gambling agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that could bring hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue into Florida’s coffers.

The issue is further complicated by Amendment 3, which stipulated that a citizens’ initiative requiring at least 60% support from voters is “the exclusive method of authorizing casino gambling” in Florida. That measure curtailed the Legislature’s ability to approve gambling expansions.

Negotiations continue with Florida’s 60-day legislative session set to end on April 30.

Skyler Swisher can be reached at sswisher@sunsentinel.com, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher.