News from Tallahassee for 7/24/14

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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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Lottery suspends sales at 11 more stores after Post investigation posted on 5/19/14

by Lawrence Mower | Palm Beach Post

The Florida Lottery, suspecting fraud, has suspended sales at 11 more stores, bringing the total to 14 since a Palm Beach Post investigation revealed startling patterns of winners.

Two of the stores were owned by winners profiled in The Post’s investigation.

Amit and Nita Thakker have owned or operated various stores in and around Gainesville for years. Since 2005, they’ve cashed in 226 big lottery prizes worth more than $560,000.

Lottery officials seized equipment and turned off the terminals at their current store, the Williston Corner Market, about 30 minutes southwest of Gainesville.

“The Florida Lottery will not tolerate fraudulent activity by our players or retailers,” a lottery news release stated.

If the lottery’s investigation confirms that store owners or clerks fraudulently sold or redeemed tickets, the lottery will terminate their contract. They could face criminal charges as well, according to the news release.

The Post’s investigation found lottery winners who were cashing in tickets against incredible odds. The most prolific winner, for example, was cashing in a ticket worth $600 or more every 11 days, on average, for years.

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Special interests, infighting stall gambling overhaul posted on 5/12/14

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tampa Tribune

slot machinesTALLAHASSEE — Like Lucy does with Charlie Brown, the Legislature keeps promising Floridians an overhaul of gambling in the state – then pulls the ball away.

This year was no different, with a grand run-up starting months before the legislative session.

Lawmakers spent nearly $400,000 on a 700-page study. The takeaway? Expanding gambling would offer “at least a mildly positive impact on the state.”

Then a group of senators led by Naples Republican Garrett Richter took to the road, holding a series of public workshops around the state.

One telling, early sign: The Orlando-based No Casinos in Florida group called out the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has long wanted to build a destination resort-casino in the state. The organization revealed that one of the Sands’ Florida lobbyists organized a busload of Tampa seniors to speak in favor of gambling at a workshop in Lakeland.

During session, House lawmakers let their Senate counterparts do the heavy lifting. The Senate’s gaming committee eventually produced a more-than-450 page rewrite of gambling-related statutes.

This time, House Speaker Will Weatherford pulled the proverbial ball away late in the session.

He said his chamber wouldn’t address any gambling legislation before Gov. Rick Scott re-negotiates a revenue sharing deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which runs Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, among other facilities.

There’s been no definitive word from Scott’s office on how close that deal is to done.

Meantime, Richter says, don’t blame legislators; blame the industry. At least 180 lobbyists were teed up to represent various gambling-related concerns this session.

Parimutuels – the horse and dog tracks – want to add slots and card games. Billion-dollar corporations want to build destination gambling resorts. Disney and other family-friendly tourism interests want the status quo.

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