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By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
Published February 11, 2008
[Willie J. Allen, Jr. | Times]
It's shaping up as a breakout year for Florida's growing gambling business.
In the past two weeks, the Seminole Tribe of Florida began spinning its first Las Vegas-style slot machines, Miami-Dade voters approved slots at the county's dog and horse tracks and jai-alai fronton, and Gov. Charlie Crist proposed an aggressive expansion of the Florida Lottery.
But the picture is still murky. A legal challenge could derail the compact signed by Crist and the Seminoles that allows the upgraded slots, plus blackjack and baccarat, at the tribe's seven casinos. Legislators might send the governor a bill that would give tracks across the state their first electronic gaming machines.
Where are we now?
The Seminole Tribe is bringing new slots into Broward County as fast as it can. Nearly 1,000 are running at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, replacing bingo-based machines where players compete against one another instead of the house. Next month, the new slots should hit two more casinos in Broward, where competitors at three race tracks already have them. The Hard Rock in Tampa, Florida's biggest casino, will likely follow soon after.
How long before the card games start?
Making room for tables on the casino floors and getting enough trained dealers will take "months," tribe officials say. They won't be more specific.
What about the court case seeking to throw out the compact?
Both sides are waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on House Speaker Marco Rubio's lawsuit. He contends Crist overstepped his authority by signing the deal without legislative approval.
If the court agrees, the next step is unclear. Legislators could try to hammer out their own deal. In any event, the Seminoles could continue the new games until a federal court rules the compact, sanctioned by the Interior Department, is invalid, says Barry Richard, an attorney for the tribe.
What's in the cards for race tracks?
Tampa Bay area tracks have lost business as the Tampa Hard Rock expanded. The Senate's Regulated Industries Committee approved a bill to let most Florida tracks and jai-alai frontons without slots operate "video lottery terminals," slot-style games where players compete against one another. But House conservatives shot down a similar bill last year. And under the compact, says Richard, the Seminoles can suspend payments to the state if it allows any new gambling other than slots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
How will the Florida Lottery grow?
Plans call for a second daily drawing for its Cash 3 and Play 4 games. Also, the agency plans to put 1,000 vending machines for scratch-off tickets in retail locations. A new $30 scratch-off game, the most expensive ever, was launched last month. Additional advertising and unspecified "Lotto enhancements" make up the last pieces of the package expected to generate an additional $248-million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3384.
[Last modified February 11, 2008, 06:46:54]