"They're draft rules. They're a starting point. We want to make sure that all the permit holders and all the stake holders are on the same page in terms of what the regulation is that's out there and what should be out there," he said.
Some question why DBPR, an executive agency run by Gov. Rick Scott's office, is dealing with the rules now as the Legislature prepares for its own debate. Others say the proposals go far beyond the agency's authority to craft rules. The agency is relying on a broad statute that gives it the power to establish "reasonable rules for the control, supervision, and direction of all applicants, permittees, and licensees and for the holding, conducting, and operating of all racetracks, race meets, and races held in this state."
In the past, the agency has dragged its feet on promulgating regulations and has been criticized, including by judges, for making some decisions about gambling without going through the formal rule-making process.
For example, the agency's rules about poker games are 5 years old and don't reflect a 2010 change in state laws that did away with a $100 limit on poker games. DBPR held a workshop on the card room rules in February, the first since a July 2010 workshop that went nowhere. The agency has yet to release any formal proposed rules since this year's card room workshop. For three years, there have been no limits on poker games, yet the rules still require dealers not to allow players to enter a game if they have more than $100 worth of chips.
The rule-making process can be lengthy. Rules require a fiscal analysis before they can become finalized. New rules can also be challenged, opening the door for expensive and drawn-out legal battles. Lawyers who successfully invalidate the rules in court can win up to $50,000 in legal fees.
There is little chance that the rules will be finalized before the Legislature convenes in March or even by the end of the session in May. Still, some industry players say they welcome the opportunity to bring Florida's gambling more in line with traditional practices.
"Some of the issues that are there, such as what kind of races can you run, are the kinds of things that need to actually be discussed. Whether or not they pass it before the Legislature passes it or not, frankly the division should be applauded for addressing the issues," said Wilbur Brewton, a lobbyist whose clients include Calder Race Course.