POINT OF VIEW Why we need voter control of gambling in Florida

Florida has lost another legal case that could result in a major expansion of gambling in the state. This loss could affect the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida and threaten the millions of dollars in revenue sharing the state receives from the Tribe.

As New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Once again, the case involves a deviously clever loophole to try to skirt gambling laws. The case deals with a machine installed in a bar in North Florida. This machine plays a game that looks like a slot machine, but the twist is that the machine gives the player a peek, called a “pre-reveal,” at the outcome before the player commits money to that game.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) seized the games, and a lawsuit ensued. Last month, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against the state and found that because the outcome of the game is always known, the games are not slot machines and are therefore not illegal.

To use a gambling parlance — the state busted. Again.

Along with this case, the state lost a recent case dealing with play of so-called “designated-player” card games, and in another loss the state was told it did not have the power to rescind a rule that regulators made giving pari-mutuels those games in the first place.

Officials from the Seminole Tribe of Florida have now notified state legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott that this ruling could violate the exclusivity terms in the current compact agreed to in 2010, further complicating this issue and perhaps casting doubt as to whether the Legislature can pass a bill that will hold the line on gambling expansion.

This case shows that those who wish to expand gambling will never stop trying tostatute get their way. We have called it “gambling creep” — the way that gambling expands beyond what was originally intended.

It is time to re-establish Florida voters as the ultimate authority when it comes to deciding on the expansion of casino-style gambling. This is why No Casinos supports the Voters in Charge initiative, which would once and for all clarify that provision. The initiative is being reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court in anticipation of appearing on the 2018 ballot.

We need a bright line in our state’s constitution so gambling expansion is out of the hands of the special interests and into the hands of Florida voters.


Editor’s note: Paul Seago is executive director of No Casinos.

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