Senate approves video gambling machines across Florida

Despite objections from religious conservatives, Florida’s Senate voted to allow slot machines at ever race track and jai-alai fronton across the state. The bill permits “electronic gaming machines” similar to bingo-like slot machines. The measure would generate up to USD 500 million, all of which would go to public schools.

The bill (SB 1380) would allow dog and horse track operators as well as jai- alai frontons to offer video slot machines, which appear virtually identical to full-fledged slot machines. Those machines require a constitutional amendment. However, the bill’s fate is far from certain. Some lawmakers are concerned that this will only promote more gambling. They also approved tax reductions for similar gambling facilities.

The measure would generate up to USD 500 million, all of which would go to public schools. That makes it a „win-win“ deal for the state, said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Dennis Jones. Pari-mutuels already are allowed to hold card games including poker. The games at 18 facilities generated USD 54 million last year, Jones said.

Three Broward County pari-mutuels have Las Vegas-style slot machines, and Miami-Dade County voters recently approved allowing pari-mutuels there to add slots. The Senate also approved a bill (SB 970) that would lower the amount of taxes the three Broward facilities pay from 50 percent to 35 percent but guarantee that they pay at least USD 143 million in total to the state, the amount generated last year.

But gambling opponents argued against bringing the video slots to other communities. Jones rejected that, citing that adult arcades that run slot machines that give out gift certificates or other tokens as prizes are popular with the elderly people who frequent them. The bill passed by a 27-11 vote.

Senators also said yes to lowering the tax rate on Broward County’s slots operators to help them compete against the Seminole Tribe’s casinos.

Proponents of the two bills hope that the state’s economic woes may give the money-making gambling proposals a better chance of getting approved by the House this session. The future of both bills is questionable, however. House Speaker Marco Rubio is adamantly opposed to any expansion of gambling in Florida.