South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
State needs to fix gambling frenzy
November 12, 2011
Barrel racing isn’t exactly the sport of kings, and Weston isn’t clamoring for a new jai-alai fronton. Both, though, stand to become thorny challenges to those seeking to curb the spread of gambling in Florida. At the moment, interest in gambling is starting to run amok.
It’s easy to pick through and find flaws in the recently filed casino bill that its sponsors, state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, insist is necessary to curtail seedier and widespread gambling outlets. The real culprit, though, is a gambling loophole the Legislature created roughly three decades ago, and which could prove big enough to drive a gravy train through.
In 1980, state lawmakers decided to give those horse and dog track operators with the lowest amounts of money wagered on races a chance to obtain summer jai-alai permits. The statute only applied to counties where five or more pari-mutuels held permits — namely, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — and those permits remained valid so long as there was no increase in the number of permit-holding pari-mutuels.
Now, 31 years later, that little-known law could be more pivotal than many people think.
Last week, a Miami casino used the statute to obtain a permit from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. The permit allows the Magic City Casino to operate a poker room and a slots operation anywhere in Miami-Dade County. Following suit, Broward County-based developer Ron Bergeron is seeking a similar permit for a new jai-alai fronton on land he owns in Weston.
A recent state District Court of Appeal ruling allowing state lawmakers to expand gambling instead of going through a local referendum has also roiled any semblance of gambling control. A group in Gretna has used the ruling to obtain a permit to run barrel races and offer slots. And there’s a pending application from a second North Florida group that wants to set up a similar operation in Jennings.
Closer to home, the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation last week voted to seek legislation allowing voters in that county to consider gaming at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which has been eager to join other South Florida pari-mutuels and cash in on gambling. While dog racing may seem more “upscale” than barrel racing, the frenzy to expand gambling should be a decisive call for lawmakers to define where gambling is to be limited as well as where it can be expanded.
Currently, there’s a major bill on the table that attempts to regulate gambling while opening the door for “destination” casinos in Florida. The jury’s still out on the casinos, but the Legislature has to act to tamp down the gaming feeding frenzy, starting with the 1980 loophole, before the Bogdanoff-Fresen bill itself becomes a moot point.
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