2014 Legislative Preview
Gambling in Florida: Don't bet on it
Florida's gaming laws are a mess, but in an election year, with powerful interests on all sides, lawmakers may not try to make comprehensive changes.
Compacts with Native Americans
Indian tribes don’t pay taxes on their casino revenue, but a revenue-sharing agreement allows the Seminoles to operate blackjack and other card games at their facilities. That agreement, which generates about $233 million for the state each year and gives exclusive rights to operate slots outside of south Florida, expires in 2015. Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Sunny Isles) and others have cautioned against a gaming expansion that might jeopardize that revenue stream to the state. Meanwhile, the state must decide whether to negotiate an agreement with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that would allow the tribe to operate slot-style bingo machines at pari-mutuel facilities in north Florida.
Setting Tax Rates
Tax rates in Florida for gaming activities are all over the map. While pari-mutuel facilities pay a 35% tax rate on their slot machine revenue, pari-mutuels that operate poker rooms pay a tax of about 10% on their card room receipts. Taxation on traditional pari-mutuel wagering activities is complicated and ranges from 1% of the total sum wagered on quarter horse racing to 7.15% for jai alai to 5.5% for dog racing. Iarossi, the lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands, says a world-class freestanding resort casino would generate jobs and bring in new money from out-of-state visitors — but will work only if Florida enacts lower tax rates than the 27% to 35% rate proposed in a study written by Spectrum Group. Iarossi has proposed a 10% tax rate for destination casinos.
“Those casinos are inconsistent with Florida’s international brand around the world, where we’re thought of as a family-friendly destination with beautiful beaches and amazing theme parks.”
— David Hart, executive vice president, Florida Chamber of Commerce
The Legislature is likely to consider some form of cap to prevent gaming from spreading throughout the state. One idea by House Speaker Will Weatherford would be to require a statewide referendum on any local gambling expansion, which means 60% of voters would have to approve it — a likely bar to gaming growth. Advocates of increased casino activity would prefer allowing local governments to decide whether they want more gaming.