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Fla. House Backs Gambling Bills But Changes Are Likely

In this file photo, a poker dealer is works a game at the Magic City Casino in Miami.

With the chairman cautioning that the proposals likely would change, a House committee Wednesday approved bills that would revamp laws about pari-mutuel facilities and create a state gaming commission.

One of the bills (PCB COM 21-05) would allow harness-racing and quarter-horse tracks and jai alai frontons to quit offering live races and matches while maintaining the ability to operate lucrative card rooms and, in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, offer slot machines.

That proposed change, known as “decoupling,” comes after a 2018 constitutional amendment ended live greyhound racing in the state.

The proposal, however, would not apply to thoroughbred race tracks. The House Commerce Committee approved that bill and a measure (PCB COM 21-03) that would create a gaming commission.

The proposals have emerged as the state tries to reach agreement on a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

House Commerce Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, made clear at the beginning of Wednesday’s discussion that the bills were a vehicle “to keep the gaming issue alive.” He added later, “These bills will, most likely, change.”

The decoupling proposal drew the most attention, with Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, objecting to the possibility of ending harness racing at Isle Casino Pompano in Broward County.

Daley said doing away with live racing would affect thousands of people in the standardbred - the type of horses used in harness racing - industry. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, also objected to a proposal that would prevent relocating pari-mutuel facilities, an issue he said is already highly regulated. “Why the blanket ban?” Geller asked.