Florida Senate Committee Tackles Two Poker Bills



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The Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee, composed of seven Republicans and five Democrats, met yesterday to debate two issues with intrinsic ties to poker, both live and online. According to an article in the St. Augustine Record, the two issues could ignite debate about the role of gaming inside Florida’s borders.

The first subject raised was the role of Florida’s dog track industry and the existence of poker rooms inside such establishments. Under current Florida law, a card room can only be established in a dog racing facility that has an active live schedule. The proposed bill, SB 1594, would remove the requirement of live racing from the state’s gaming statute.

The article stated that this was the most hotly contested issue on the Senate committee’s agenda for the day. The sponsor of the bill, Senate Regulated Industries Committee Vice Chairman Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach), stated to the Record that the greyhounds “are running all the time in order for the track to maintain a profitable card room” and, as such, the animals are suffering.

By being able to offer the poker rooms with a reduced or nonexistent schedule, the greyhounds would have better living conditions and the owners and operators of Florida’s greyhound tracks would have a better chance of staying in business.

There were several segments of the Florida community aligned against the proposed bill. Dog breeders and trainers joined anti-gaming advocates in opposing the bill on several fronts, including the effect that reduced or eliminated racing would have on several fringe industries. In the end, the committee voted 7-5 to pass the proposed legislation on to the full Senate for consideration.

Another issue debated in front of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee could have more of an impact on Florida’s online poker players. SB 812 is a proposal that would open up Florida for an intrastate internet gambling network. The bill would include online poker.

The Record notes that Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) was pushing for the legislation. The Senator, according to the Record’s report, stated that many Floridians were already taking part in online gaming and poker. By setting up an intrastate operation, the state would be able to regulate online gaming, make the games safer for residents, and allow the state to tax the industry. The measure passed through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee by a 10-2 vote.

Although the two measures passed through the appropriate Senate committee, the future of the proposals is unknown at best. The Record points out that there are no companion bills on the House side of the legislature, something that is necessary for a bill to advance. In addition to the lack of companion legislation, the head of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island), has been noncommittal on the two proposals.

Over the past two years, Florida’s gaming laws have been greatly altered, allowing the state to enjoy increased revenues from poker. After removing limits on tournaments and cash games, several top Florida casino outlets have experienced an explosion of players in their card rooms.

The World Series of Poker Circuit completed a stop earlier this month at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and the World Poker Tour will head to Hollywood, Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in late April. In January, Florida Senator Dennis Jones introduced legislation to establish five “destination” casinos in the state, a proposal that is still under scrutiny from the Florida state legislature.

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