A House proposal that would allow only bingo-style slot machines in Broward County and require local pari-mutuels to ante up almost double what they expected in taxes was dubbed a loser on Thursday by slot proponents and is facing tough opposition from members of the committee that will vote on it next week.
House Business Regulation Chairman Frank Attkisson offered his plan as the first salvo in the legislative battle over how to regulate and tax the gaming machines that Broward voters have agreed can go into two horse tracks, a dog track and a jai-alai fronton.
A Senate slots bill, which may preview next week, is expected to be more generous to the pari-mutuel community and define slots as Las Vegas-style Class III gaming.
Attkisson said he wants to stick with the lower class of gaming machine that includes video lottery and electronic bingo to help Gov. Jeb Bush negotiate gaming compacts with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.
Under federal law, the tribes are allowed to seek agreements that give them whatever kind of gambling is allowed in the state.
"I think the [state's] voters wanted to isolate [expanded gambling] to Miami-Dade and Broward counties," he said. "If you allow Broward to go to Class III machines, gambling will explode across Florida."
Attkisson also said slots advocates who vowed to raise $438 million for Florida's public schools with casinos in two counties now need to make good on that promise -- even though the machines were approved only in Broward County. He said state voters last fall agreed to let Miami-Dade and Broward counties vote on expanded gambling mostly because they knew schools throughout Florida would benefit financially.
During the heated fall campaign, proponents promised $438 million to public education in the first year of slots operation and $2.3 billion over five years. They won the battle, with 52 percent of the statewide vote.
But just because Miami-Dade voters later rejected slots doesn't mean Broward's pari-mutuels shouldn't be made to fulfill the original campaign promise, he said.
"That is a promise that voters voted for," said Attkisson, R-Kissimmee. "We need to ensure the promises are kept."
Attkisson's vision, which includes machines akin to video lottery terminals now used at Indian casinos instead of full-fledged Las Vegas-style slots, may have some support from Bush. But the plan has already prompted hostile reaction and is expected to run into tough opposition from slots proponents and members of Attkisson's own committee. And many of his ideas are expected to gain little steam in the state Senate.
"One thing the voters knew, from both the pro- and anti-campaigns, is that they were voting on Las Vegas-style slots," said Rep. Ron Greenstein, D-Coconut Creek, a member of the committee along with four other Broward legislators. "If you want to hold [the pari-mutuels] to their $438 million promise, what tools do you want to give them to get to that promise?"
Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, one of four Miami-Dade legislators on the committee, called it "unfair and a little onerous" to impose the full amount of the promise on one county. He suggested voters would have a realistic expectation of getting a little less.
"Don't lose sight of the fact that this is for education," said Rep. Susan Goldstein, R-Weston. "And we don't want to tie their hands."
Marc Dunbar, a lobbyist for Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, said the plan is filled with regulations that are too restrictive and won't enable the track to compete with nearby Indian casinos that are already siphoning their clientele.
"We couldn't reasonably compete with Hard Rock," he said. "We need something that gives us a level playing field."
Attkisson also said he wants to protect tourist destinations in other areas of the state from being "cannibalized" by a South Florida advertising blitz to lure vacationers. If they do, he wants a new state board to have the power to yank slot licenses.
"We need to make sure that they're going out of state to attract their tourism ... rather than allowing them to cannibalize existing Florida tourism markets that we respect and value so deeply," said Attkisson, whose hometown is next to what he called "the world's number one family destination" -- Walt Disney World.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach, said the proposal -- dubbed by many members of the committee as "the Disney bill" -- is "filled with poison pills."
And Jim Horne, a former state education commissioner who became the leading spokesman for the pro-slots statewide and local campaigns, said Attkisson is more concerned about turf protection than with promoting competition.
"No one said we were building a huge destination complex [for tourists]," Horne said. "They need to let the free enterprise system work and don't be so overly concerned about protecting one area of the state from another."
The committee is expected to amend and then vote on Attkisson's proposal next week. At that time members will debate how high a tax should be placed on the machines, decide which class of machine should be allowed and how many hours they can operate, and consider whether to limit the number of machines each facility can install. But even after that, the bill will likely face two or three more committees before it hits the House floor for a vote.
While Attkisson's bill calls for the machines to be allowed to operate only between noon and midnight, the Senate version could allow for as many as 23 hours a day. The Senate is expected to call for a tax no higher than 35 percent, while House leaders have suggested a 50 percent tax would bring more revenue to schools.
Linda Kleindienst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-224-6214.