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Florida Senator Seeks “Unconstitutional” Expansion of Gambling

Posted on by John Lathram

FloridaOnly three months after Floridians voted to take control of state mandated gambling, Senator Bill Galvano is proposing a far-reaching gambling bill.

In November last year, Florida´s voters approved Ballot Proposal 3 – a constitutional amendment that gives voters the exclusive right to approve any expansion of casino gambling in the Sunshine State. The logic behind the proposal was that it would more likely prevent commercial casinos gaining a foothold in Florida and tarnishing the state´s “family friendly” image.

The passage of the amendment removes the power of the legislature to pass casino-related gambling laws without a public referendum; and, although the current compact with the Seminole Tribe was unaffected by the vote, supporters of the proposal claim voters´ rights apply to any expansion of current games allowed under the compact or the addition of new games.

Senator Proposes Bill with “Comprehensive Impact”

The current compact with the Seminole Tribe expires this coming May, after which the state may no longer be able to depend on the $340 million it receives in return for granting the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to operate Blackjack games and house-banked games in its casinos. To address this risk, Senator Bill Galvano has proposed a new gambling bill that would enable the Seminole Tribe to offer sports betting and expand other gambling opportunities at the state´s dog and horse tracks.

Despite the apparent obstacle of voter control, Senator Bill Galvano told reporters last week the bill would have a “comprehensive impact” on regulated gambling in Florida, and that he has instructed the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee to review the issue and to develop draft legislation by late February. Galvano aims to have his draft proposals ready for when the new legislative session begins on March 5th.

Is Galvano´s Proposed Expansion of Gambling Actually Unconstitutional?

This is a grey area. Amendment 3 specifically stated that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize an expansion of casino gambling – not sports betting or any expansion to the facilities being run by the state´s dog and horse tracks. A strict interpretation of the law means that legislators can pass any bill that expands gambling in Florida provided it has nothing to do with casinos.

Naturally, the conditions of the compact with the Seminole Tribe also have to be considered. At present, these include the prohibition of online poker and online casinos in Florida, but things could change under a renegotiated compact. Furthermore, as the repeal of PASPA did not occur until six months after the wording of the ballot proposal was approved, it might even be possible to offer the Seminole Tribe exclusive sports betting rights in return for concessions elsewhere.

Another Case of Wait and See

The conclusion is that – just like we are waiting to find out what the reversal of the Wire Act means for regulated online gambling in the United States – we will have to wait and see what Senator Galvano´s proposals consist of, at which point we will have a better idea about how he might get them through the legislature without violating the constitution or damaging relationships with the Seminole Tribe.

However, whereas my initial views where “is he mad” to propose an expansion of gambling so soon after Amendment 3 was passed last year, Senator Galvano might be able to pull this off. The inevitable court challenge may not be successful if the letter of the law is applied, plus the benefit of expanded revenues might just sweeten opponents of a gambling expansion if it means their personal taxes don´t have to go up to cover any revenue shortfalls.

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