News from Tallahassee for 9/20/14

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Lax enforcement stretches out investigations in greyhound racing posted on 9/8/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — When Saul Mays applied for a license to own and train greyhounds in 2002, his rap sheet signaled he was not a model citizen.

Convicted of kidnapping his estranged wife at gunpoint in 1988, after taking her into the woods and sexually assaulting her, he had served three years in prison. The staff at the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering recommended Mays' application to race dogs be denied, but Mays appealed and was granted a license.

A year later in 2003, investigators found evidence that Mays' dogs were being abused at the Jefferson County Kennel Club. He was investigated at his Monticello kennel then, and again in 2005 and 2010, when inspectors found seven "very thin" dogs and others covered with tick bites. In each case, state regulators concluded there was not enough evidence of abuse and no action was taken.

Mays got his first reprimand in 2012, only after the Washington County Kennel Club in Ebro reported that greyhounds Mays put up for adoption were "covered in ticks" and the dogs "all appeared to be in poor overall shape."

But the 2012 penalty didn't come from the state. It came from the National Greyhound Association, which represents owners and trainers. The organization banned Mays for life from "any further involvement with NGA-registered greyhounds." Florida regulators fined Mays $300 and let him keep his license.

Florida law gives the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering the power to revoke or suspend a license of a dog or horse trainer or owner if he has been convicted of a felony or is found abusing animals. But, based on dozens of cases reviewed by the Times/Herald, implementation of the rules is lax, and the penalties are often weak.

In the past year, state regulators have granted 80 occupational licenses to owners and trainers of dogs and horses who have been convicted of crimes — from cocaine, heroin and amphetamine possession to assault and battery — and denied 115 requests from people with felony convictions.

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Seminole Tribe casino rolling to tune of $886 million posted on 9/5/14

by Richard Mulllins | Tampa Bay Tribune

Some slot machines at Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will pay out a few dollars at a time to winners, while big-time winners can go home with several hundred thousand dollars. As for how much the casino itself generates in revenue, that’s long been a tightly kept secret. Now, a few hints are starting to emerge.

Based on state figures, it’s possible to project an overall revenue figure topping $886 million in fiscal year 2013-2014, going up in later years. That easily makes the Tampa location the largest Seminole casino in the state by revenue, while total revenue among all Seminole casinos likely tops $2 billion a year, according to state projections.

Such gaming revenue represents an increasingly important source of taxable income for Florida, just as the casino seeks to expand and the Seminole Tribe and the governor try to hammer out a new compact to govern gaming in the state — during an election year.

Seminole Hard Rock officials declined to comment on revenue figures for any of their casino sites, but they are not disputing figures first reported by the Sun Sentinel this week that calculated the tribe’s take from several casinos across Florida.

The Hard Rock in Tampa already ranks as one of the largest in the world by some measures. It houses 4,600 slot machines, and the complex spans more than 190,000 square feet, rivaling the size of some small shopping malls. More than 3,400 people work at the casino, which operates around the clock and often sees 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a day. During big occasions like the Super Bowl, the site reaches full capacity and can’t let in any more visitors.

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Florida Lottery sales continue to grow posted on 7/8/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Sales of Florida Lottery tickets continue to grow.

Lottery officials announced that the state sold more than $5.36 billion in tickets during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. That's the second year in a row that ticket sales have exceeded $5 billion.

State officials estimate that the increased sales will result in $1.49 billion going to schools and to pay for programs such as the state's Bright Futures scholarship program.

Florida voters first approved the lottery in 1986, and tickets went on sale in early 1988. Sales initially peaked at $4.2 billion back in 2008 but dropped as the state's economy soured.

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No Casinos poll: Voters want final say in any expansion posted on 6/27/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Any discussion of expanded gambling, or limited gambling, may be on hold until after the election but a new poll out by No Casinos says legislators should keep voters in mind before making any commitments. Download Florida-Gambling-Survey-June-2014-Handouts

Here's the press release:

Florida voters don’t want elected officials who represent them to support more gambling in the state, and they heavily favor a Constitutional Amendment that would require voters statewide to have the final say on whether or not a form of gambling is legal in Florida. The poll of 604 likely voters was conducted by Hill Research Consultants, and is part of a candidate pledge package being sent by NoCasinos.org to all candidates running for the Florida Legislature.

“It is good public policy and smart politics to be against the expansion of gambling in Florida,” said NoCasinos.org President John Sowinski. “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to legalize more gambling, and Florida voters want to have the final say on this issue through a statewide vote of the people.” The poll consistently showed strong bi-partisan consensus on these issues.

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Court ruling opens door to gambling expansion in Florida City posted on 5/28/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida City could be home to Miami Dade’s next poker room and, with time, slot machines, under a loophole in the law affirmed Tuesday by a state appeals court.

The decision by the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee overruled state regulators and said that Magic City Casino’s parent company, West Flagler Associates, is eligible to obtain a summer jai alai permit that could also open the door to expanded gambling.

Because of a loophole in state law, West Flagler is required to obtain the jai alai permit and then operate just a single jai alai game to be eligible for a poker room. After two years, it could become eligible for a slot machine license in Miami Dade County.

Isadore Havenick, West Flagler owner and vice president, said the company has an option to buy a piece of property in Florida City and, if state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering grants the summer jai alai permit as expected, the company plans to build a poker room and jai alai fronton near Homestead there.

As for building a new casino, “we honestly haven’t thought that far in advance,” Havenick told the Herald/Times. “Now, it’s a poker room and a jai alai fronton and, hopefully, we’ll be allowed to build that if the division allows us.”

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