Time to end “gambling expansion by dysfunction”

Why do voters need to be in charge of approving any gambling expansion in Florida?

The short answer is that nobody else has proven themselves capable. It seems that every time politicians or bureaucrats have given the gambling industry a seemingly tiny concession, it has resulted in a massive expansion of gambling.

In our video entitled “Gambling Creep,” we documented how this reality has led to the types of gambling we have in Florida today.

One case in point is currently in front of the Florida Supreme Court. In 2004 voters narrowly approved an amendment that would allow slot machines in 7 pari-mutuel wagering facilities in Miami-Dad and Broward Counties. When implementing that bill, the Florida Legislature bent the rules and gave slots to those 7, plus one other pari-mutuel facility in Miami-Dade County. Now gambling lawyers and lobbyists are trying to use that law to force slot machines into approximately 30 other dog track, horse track and jai alai fronton in every Florida County with a pari-mutuel facility.

Consider another case in point:  the embarrassing position the state has put itself in regulating banked card games – those like blackjack and baccarat where a gambler plays against a house dealer.

Florida lawmakers gave the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to offer such games in the 2010 gambling compact. Backing up the deal was Florida Statute 849.086(12)(a) outlawing banked games not specifically authorized by the legislature.

And so what happened?

Shortly after the compact was signed, state regulators allowed pari-mutuel casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to offer an electronic game that played blackjack with electronic cards, as if there is a difference between a microchip dealing out the cards as opposed to a human.

The Seminoles understandably did not see it that way.

And then compounding the matter, regulators allowed cardrooms at pari-mutuels across the state to offer variations of poker games, called “Pai Gow Poker” or “Three Card Poker”, in which players played against the dealer instead of each other. The deal is supposed to be rotated among players so the “house’’ is not involved in the action.

This person holds the title of “designated player.’’

On paper, it still looks like players playing against each other.

But that’s not how it plays out.

The pari-mutuels bring in third-party vendors to act as the “designated player.’’ These vendors, in turn, pay a hefty sum to the pari-mutuel. The deal doesn’t rotate. And the vendors often don’t deal. They just sit there taking in the money while a dealer from the pari-mutuel dispenses the cards.

To quote Nick Sortal, the gambling writer for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale: “…my take is that this ‘designated player’ stuff is a work-around to avoid using the word dealer. It’s a banked card game, pretty obviously.’’

The Seminole Tribe is in complete agreement with Nick.

The tribe’s right to exclusively offer banked card games under the 2010 compact expired last year. The state says it has to stop them. The tribe says no it doesn’t because the state has violated the compact by allowing the pari-mutuels to offer banked games – both at video terminals and at the card tables. This puts in jeopardy tens of millions of dollars the tribe pays the state every year from its winnings. In effect, the state has given the tribe a big legal club to beat the state over the head with in their ongoing legal wrangling.

Oops.

And so now regulators from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation are trying to halt these games at the pari-mutuels. This has put the Department in the bizarre position of arguing that even if it allowed the games back in 2011, that doesn’t make them legal. It has told the pari-mutuels to go to the Legislature and change the statute.

“If the (department) allowed something that should not have been allowed, shame on us,” department lawyer William Hall said in an administrative hearing.

Of course the pari-mutuels are screaming foul, saying the state can’t do take-backs. They are screaming loudly because interest in traditional poker is waning and interest in the two and three card banked poker games is increasing.

We have gambling expansion by dysfunction, in which the state is working at cross-purposes to its own interests as well as taxpayer’s interests.

The only solution is to put voters back in charge of gambling expansion. It’s what the writers of our state’s constitution intended when they wrote Article X, section 7 into our state’s constitution back in 1968, (read more about that here) and has been the prevailing wisdom in our state until the last few years.

This is why No Casinos supports the Voters in Charge initiative, which would require any form of casino gambling to be approved by a statewide vote of the people in order to be legal in Florida. The measure has gained enough petition signatures for a review by the Florida Supreme Court in anticipation of appearing on the 2018 ballot.

The alternative is a continuation of a system in which gambling decisions are determined by, haphazard regulation, costly legal battles and back-room political wheeling and dealing.

It’s time to put voters in charge of gambling policy in Florida.

 

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