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Gaming Deal Heads to House

A $1 billion gaming deal is heading to the House for a final vote after the Florida Senate signed off on the measure by a 29-9 vote Thursday.

With no debate, the Senate approved the deal, which would expand gaming in the state and infuse $437.5 million into a cash-strapped budget, propping up funding to schools and universities. The vote comes after three years of legislative and legal wrangling and nearly two decades of negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates seven facilities throughout the state.

The deal would provide the state at least $1 billion over a five-year period.

“We’ve had gaming in this state for 85 years,” Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, told members as he introduced the bill. “This is an opportunity for the next 20 years to work with the tribe who are willing to pay us $1 billion for that privilege. In addition, this legislation will help keep the 26,000 jobs in our pari-mutuel industry, something they’ve worked hard for over the past three years.”

The measure would ratify a compact signed by the governor and tribe earlier this month that allows the tribe to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines at its seven casinos and banked card games, like blackjack or baccarat, at five of the seven facilities. The compact gives the tribe exclusive rights to card games for five years and slots for 20.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, attempted to amend the bill to set aside 1 percent of the state's take and put it toward compulsive gaming treatment, but it was defeated on a voice vote.

“The Florida Legislature is making a mistake and the governor of the state of Florida is making a mistake to go down this road and expand gambling,” Storms said.

The dissenting votes on the measure were Sens. Carey Baker, Lee Constantine, Victor Crist, Don Gaetz, Andy Gardiner, Steve Oelrich, Durell Peaden, Stephen Wise and Storms.

Gov. Charlie Crist released a statement following the Senate vote thanking the Senate for their work on the issue

“The compact will improve the quality of life of Floridians and benefit both the tribe and our entire state, and I encourage the Florida House to take similar action as quickly as possible,” he said in the statement. “These much-needed funds should find their way into Florida’s classrooms to support the work of our students and teachers – and help us continue to improve schools throughout Florida.”

The bill was immediately sent to the House, which has typically been squeamish on gaming expansion. But the lead House negotiator on gaming Bill Galvano has said he feels confident that the House will pass the measure.

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