News from Tallahassee for 12/22/14

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Gardiner says first Senate bill will be greyhound injury reporting posted on 12/18/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Senate President Andy Gardiner said Wednesday he will revive the bill (SB 2) to require the greyhound racing industry to report animal injuries and have the measure sent to the House during the first week of the 2015 session.

“It’ll be named after Mrs. Gaetz,’’ he said, referring to Vicky Gaetz, the wife of former Senate President Don Gaetz who is an animal lover and worked to help persuade lawmakers to pass the bill last year.

The bill died in the final week of the 2014 legislative session after it became entangled in pari-mutuel industry politics.

Unlike other states, Florida’s greyhound industry does not have to report when dogs are injured as a result of racing or training. The bill, SB 2, was filed Tuesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. It imposes fines on track veterinarians who fail to report race-related injuries and follows a similar bill passed in 2013 that requires tracks to report greyhound deaths. In the first 9 months of 2013, 74 greyhound deaths were reported – more than one every three days.

“I sort of think the bill, whether it was timing or anything else, should have been resolved last year,’’ said Gardiner, R-Orlando, speaking to reporters in his Tallahassee office. The measure got caught in a late-session fight after the House and Senate abandoned attempts to update the state’s gambling laws. The Senate had pushed a plan to end the requirement that dog tracks race greyhounds in order to keep their gaming permits but it died amid fierce opposition from the powerful greyhound track owners.

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Florida gambling's next step: Seminole compact posted on 11/12/14

by Nick Sortal | Sun Sentinel

slot machinesThe question of who will govern Florida is settled and there's a consensus on the next step in planning Florida's gambling future.

But after that...

Casino operators, legislators and others in the gambling industry met Tuesday for the annual Florida Gaming Congress to kick around ideas and discuss where the world in general and Florida in particular are headed.

Most agree that now that Rick Scott has been re-elected governor, he will resume negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over an agreement that gave the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games in exchange for $1 billion over five years.

"We're hopeful to continue the relationship that's been so successful," Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen said, after serving as a panelist at the Hyatt Regency in Miami.

The Associated Press reported this summer that Scott had asked legislators last spring to hold a special session that would have completed "the most lucrative compact ever." Allen declined to comment on the report.

The Seminoles also have been clearing out space at their Seminole Paradise in Hollywood, leveling the Johnny Rockets, Blue Pointe, Tatu restaurants and other spots. Analysts predict an additional hotel will be built next to the existing 500-room structure that's at about 95 percent capacity, but Allen said any such move must be approved by the Seminoles' tribal council.

Overall, the Florida casino landscape is still unclear, with resort casinos looking for state approval, while horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons seek approval of table games and a decrease in their 35-percent slot tax.

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Documents show Gov. wanted big deal with tribe posted on 9/29/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

slot machinesTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott's staff nearly reached a multi-billion dollar deal with the Seminole Indian tribe that would have allowed it to add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The deal, which was scuttled last spring amid resistance from state legislators, also would have opened the door for the Seminoles to build a casino in the Fort Pierce area and would likely have blocked construction of any Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami for the next seven years.

In exchange, the Republican governor would have gotten the headline-grabbing news that it was the largest deal ever reached between a tribe and a state government. The figure was expected to be $2 billion over a seven-year period and the words "largest guarantee ever" were included on several documents instead of an actual amount. Another estimate placed the deal at $15 billion over 30 years.

The documents released by the Scott administration four months after the AP first requested them show that the incumbent governor is open to shifting his stance on gambling. Scott previously has been viewed as quiet supporter of opening major casinos in South Florida and had fostered ties with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The deal proposed by the Scott administration would have eclipsed the $1 billion deal reached by then-Gov. Charlie Crist with the tribe. The 2010 compact approved by the Legislature allowed the tribe to gain a virtual monopoly on slot machines outside of South Florida and gave them table games such as blackjack at most of their facilities. But key portions of the deal expire next summer unless the tribe and the state craft a new agreement.

Scott spokesman Frank Collins contended that the documents mean nothing going forward. All negotiations are on hold pending the November election, in which Scott's main rival for re-election is Crist.

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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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