Bill Galvano

“Manufactured crisis” or special interest shakedown?

Apparently, Truth or Dara isn’t alone in viewing a potential special session with dread.

John Sowinski, the head of No Casinos, asked legislative leaders to ignore what he’s calling “a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists who want you to re-convene the legislature so they can try to make one more run at a major expansion of gambling before the November elections, when Florida voters will likely approve Amendment 3.”

Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva, Republicans who will take over as the leaders of their chambers later this year, last week resuscitated persistently elusive gambling issues, as they explore a deal with the Seminole Tribe.

They — and House Speaker Richard Corcoran — say the urgency is required because of a potential $400 million hit to the state budget, should the tribe decide to stop making payments to the state.

But Sowinski’s not buying it.

Here’s the full text of the letter he wrote to the leaders today:

Dear Speaker Corcoran and President Negron:

I have recently read press reports that there is discussion of holding a special session on the issue of gambling in the hopes of coming up with a “deal.”  If ever there was an issue that the legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling.  And whenever this issue comes up in Tallahassee, negotiations between the chambers seem to be more focused on coming up with a “deal” that satisfies competing gambling interests than enacting solutions that are in the best interests of the people of Florida.

Some articles have indicated that the reason convening a special session is being considered is because there are concerns about a potential revenue loss if the Seminole Tribe does not keep making payments to the state for banked card games, now that the state has failed to meet a deadline to provide for strict enforcement related to “designated player games” at pari-mutuel facilities.  The urgency of this matter is curious, since no facts have changed since the end of session that would now make this such an enormous priority that it could merit a call for a special session of the Legislature.

Most observers see this as a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists who want you to re-convene the legislature so they can try to make one more run at a major expansion of gambling before the November elections, when Florida voters will likely approve Amendment 3.

But of even greater concern is that many people suggest a political fundraising benefit to holding a special session, given the gambling industry’s sordid reputation for seeking gambling approvals by making huge contributions to campaigns and electioneering committees.  Their views on the matter were summed up by one pari-mutuel owner who recently told a reporter that if the Legislature didn’t pass a gambling bill to benefit his industry, “They’ll never see any of my money ever again,” the owner said. “Why bother?”  I know it is not reflective of your intent, but their attitude seems to be that they are owed something because of their political contributions.

You can tell the gambling interests and assure the people of Florida that public policy is not for sale in Tallahassee by resisting gambling lobbyist pressure for a special session.  Convening a special session that will be seen as a genuflection to the gambling industry would provide voters with a perfect illustration of why Amendment 3 is so badly needed.

The simplest way to ensure continued compact revenues would be for the state to take steps to comply with the consent agreement it entered into with the Seminole Tribe.  At the very least, use your oversight authority and budgetary discretion to ask the Division to present to you a plan for vigorous enforcement.  Ensure that they take whatever steps are available to them and have whatever resources are at their discretion and yours to do the job.  At the very most, fixing this problem would require a one page bill. But only in the world of gambling legislation and the myriad of lobbyists who influence it would such an easy fix come at a price of expanding gambling throughout the state.  Sadly, that is what any proposed “deal” has always included.

I’d also like to add two other points to the discussion.  First, it is not just my opinion, but proven history that revenue promises made by the pari-mutuel industry, and specifically their promises about slot machine revenue, simply can’t be trusted.  In 2004, Florida voters narrowly approved with 50.8% of the vote (before 60% was required for constitutional amendment passage) the amendment approving slot machines at seven existing facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.  Voters were promised that these machines would generate a half-billion dollars per year in revenue for education.  These revenues have never exceeded $188 million.  Then a few years ago these same pari-mutuels promised that if their tax rate was cut from 50% to 35%, revenue to the state would increase because of the capital improvements they would make, even convincing state revenue estimators.  Last year your revenue estimators put forth a report showing that they were wrong, and these cuts resulted in less revenue to the state.  Now they want their tax rate cut from 35% to 20%.  Banking on pari-mutuels to provide a reliable source of revenue to the state is, pardon the pun, a bad bet.

 

Finally, I would like to bring to your attention how Amendment 3 would likely impact any expansion of gambling that you might pursue at this time.  When we drafted the amendment, we considered the possibility that some gambling advocates might want to “beat the buzzer” with gambling expansion prior to passage of the amendment.  The last thing we wanted was to have our own amendment trigger an expansion of gambling.  So we wrote the amendment, not to govern “expansion” of gambling, but to set a constitutional standard for whether a form of casino gambling is authorized in the state.  Under Amendment 3, in order for a form of casino gambling to be authorized in the state, it must be approved by Florida voters through statewide voter initiative.

 

As it turns out, the only existing forms of gambling that would be impacted by Amendment 3 are those that exist through loopholes, including the vexing designated player games and internet cafés.  But if the legislature enacts new forms of casino gambling, such as gifting slot machine licenses to pari-mutuel operators outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties without voter approval through constitutional initiative, even before passage of the amendment, Amendment 3 was written to de-authorize any such expansion.  Therefore, any revenue you might seek to add by authorizing additional gambling now is speculative at best.  The analysis done of Amendment 3 by your revenue estimators sitting as the Financial Impact Estimating Conference is consistent with this assessment.

 

We appreciate your leadership, and the fact that the Legislature has, for the past seven years, resisted continued attempts to expand gambling.  We ask you to resist this last ditch effort by gambling interests to force a major expansion of gambling upon our state.

 

 

 

 

School safety measure in House’s hands

All eyes are now on the House, after a sweeping school safety measure squeaked out of the Senate on a 20-18 vote Monday evening.

But could a tweak that may have kept the bill from going down in the upper chamber result in its demise across the rotunda?

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, sponsored an amendment that would exclude individuals who “exclusively” provide classroom instruction from participating in the school marshal program, rebranded by the Senate on Monday as the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.” The controversial program would allow specially trained teachers or other school personnel to bring guns to class.

With the clock ticking down until the session ends Friday, there’s no guarantee that the House, slated to take up the bill (SB 7026) tomorrow, will pass it as is, Senate leaders acknowledged.

“It’s been a very dynamic process. There were even amendments on third reading, which is unusual for a bill of this stature,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters late Monday evening.

“There’s some general consensus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both the House and the Senate had some additional input into the process. But I think on some of the fundamental areas, there’s agreement,” he said.

The Senate plan also includes a provision that requires both school districts and sheriffs to sign off on the plan, while the House’s version would only require the blessing of the school boards.

Gov. Rick Scott has opposed arming teachers, and it’s unclear whether he would support the revised bill.

Sen. Bill Galvano, who’s negotiated with Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva and Scott on the proposal, said that the measure passed by the Senate Monday night “was not a deal with the House,” but was generated from “the discussion” during Saturday’s floor debate.

Garcia was a no vote, Galvano pointed out.

(Translation: If Garcia had joined the opposition on Monday, the bill would have died on a 19-19 tie.)

 

 

Scrambling for gambling

As talks between key lawmakers and the Seminoles heat up, the anti-gambling group behind a constitutional amendment going on this fall’s ballot is taking to the air waves to scold the Legislature for trying to beat voters to the punch.

Voters In Charge, the political committee that pushed the “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” is running a 30-second TV ad and a 60-second radio ad — in additional to digital and social media advertising — starting today, according to a release issued by the group this morning.

If approved, voters statewide would have to approve any expansion of gambling, something now largely controlled by the Legislature. A recent poll showed 76 percent support for the measure, which will appear as Amendment 3 on the November ballot and was largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Anticipating passage of the proposal, legislators are scurrying to craft a new 20-year agreement with the Seminoles, prompting the attack from Voters in Charge.

“They’re trying desperately to expand gambling now, before voters have their say,” a female voiceover on the TV ad scolds.

Sen. Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva met with Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, and the tribe’s lobbyist Will McKinley, yesterday. Galvano told Truth or Dara he expects the Seminoles to give the legislative leaders a draft compact this week.

“The reaction by gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians shows exactly why we need Amendment 3,” Sowinski said in the release announcing the ads.

 

Doggone it: Regulators rile gambling competitors

Florida gambling regulators this week gave a Miami track permission to do away with dog races but to keep more lucrative slots and card games.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation allowed Magic City, in Miami, to ditch the dog races in exchange for operating jai alai matches.

The decision was rooted in a 1980 law that allows Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels that have the lowest betting handle for two consecutive years to convert to summer jai alai permits. But if those pari-mutuels do not seek conversion, other facilities can seek the permits.

Owners of Mardi Gras, a rival dog track of nearby Magic City, sought to intervene in the case. But the state agency rejected those efforts in the declaratory statement issued Wednesday.

In an early-morning interview Friday, Dan Adkins — vice president of Hartman and Tyner, which owns Mardi Gras — told The News Service the agency’s decision wasn’t what lawmakers intended when they passed the law decades ago.

But Adkins said he wasn’t sure if he’ll appeal the decision.

“We probably won’t. I’m getting tired of playing by the rules. Everybody else gets away with breaking the rules, gets away with going around scamming the system. That’s what this is. So maybe I’m going to have to find my own way to game the system,” Adkins, repeatedly saying he did not blame lawyer John Lockwood, who represents West Flagler Associates, or his Magic City competitor for trying to push the envelope.

Even so, Adkins maintained, “this is not the way this regulated industry should operate, especially when people are gambling on it.”

 

Special session likely to include pot

Anticipating some red ink from Gov. Rick Scott, legislative leaders are preparing for a mid- to late-June special session that will almost certainly include medical marijuana.

All eyes are on Scott, who’s yet to receive the state’s annual spending plan. Once he does, the governor will have 15 days to use his line-item veto on the $83 billion budget.

But Scott is also under intense pressure to veto a controversial education measure, which carries a price tag of about $400 million. And, while he’s at it, some public school folks want Scott to slash the entire K-12 portion of the budget.

The special session also address higher education issues, some insiders predict. They’re advising folks not to make any plans during the week of June 19 (or possibly the following week).

Whatever else they do, lawmakers are practically guaranteed to also deal with implementation of the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions.

“I support a special session to address medical cannabis, and I predict that we will have one,” Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who took over negotiations with the house on the marijuana measure in the waning days of the session, told The News Service late Tuesday evening.

House and Senate leaders failed to reach agreement on rules to regulate the industry for doctors, patients and vendors during the regular session that ended earlier this month.

A key sticking point was how many retail outlets the state’s marijuana operators should be able to run. The Senate wanted to cap the number, while the House’s final offer — on the last day of the session — was 100 storefronts per vendor, which essentially killed any hopes for a deal.

But lawmakers have been under intense pressure to hold a special session to deal with the issue. If they don’t, Department of Health “bureaucrats” will be responsible for implementing the amendment, something critics say would be bad for patients and the industry.

Posted by Dara Kam