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Lawmakers discuss new gaming bill proposal

Bill could pave the way for more casinos in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A four-hour long workshop Thursday had legislators diving into a heated gambling debate on what's best for the future of gaming in the state. Destination resort casinos, the future of greyhound racing and renewing the compact that allows blackjack in certain places around the state were topics of discussion for lawmakers.

There's another dog in the gambling fight -- the Florida Greyhound Association. They don't want to see the legislature decouple, which would allow them to operate poker and slots without having to run dog races.

But are the odds are against getting many of the proposals to pass?

Outsiders said putting a Las Vegas-type strip wouldn't corrupt the state.

"Make no mistake, the tribal facilities in Florida are Las Vegas-style casinos," said Nick Iarossi, with Las Vegas Sands Corp. "The one in Tampa does a billion dollars in revenue a year -- one of the most profitable in the world. The sky did not fall when they opened up (and) crime rates didn't increase in Hillsborough County."

But John Sowinski, with anti-gaming group No Casinos said expansion would ruin the family-friendly Florida brand.

"To say that casinos don't create more crime in that zip code is like saying cigarette factories don't increase cancer rates around the cigarette factory," Sowinski said. "This is a problem people take home with them."

The workshop comes at a time when the state is trying to renew its compact deal with the Seminole Tribe, an exclusive deal that allows their tribes' casinos to run blackjack and other table games. The deal has brought $1 billion to the state and expires in July.

"I encouraged them to participate in this workshop today, but they determined they were not going to do that," Rep. Dana Young said.

Young is pushing a comprehensive gaming bill that could pave the way for more casinos in the state and create oversight.

The House majority leader who crafted the comprehensive gaming bill said it was too early to determine how many members supported it.

"This is a gaming bill and gaming bills never come up until the last couple days of session," Young said.

The bill would force the Seminoles to give up their exclusive gaming rights, something they've said they're not on board with. The talks have reportedly been stalled since January.