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Senate tees up gambling bill for approval

The Senate is expected to approve a pari-mutuel friendly gambling proposal Thursday, after hearing an explanation of the sweeping measure during a floor session Wednesday.

Sen. Bill Galvano, sponsor of the legislation (SB 8), said his plan would, in part, address "ambiguity in existing law" and address two court cases "that in many ways have wrested control away from the Legislature" regarding gambling issues.

One of the lawsuits, awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court, is focused on whether pari-mutuels in counties where voters have approved slot machines can add the games without the express authorization of the Legislature.

Galvano's proposal would open the door for slot machines in eight counties where voters have approved them.

The Senate bill would also legalize controversial "designated player" card games at the heart of a federal lawsuit in which a judge sided with the Seminole Tribe against the state.

Galvano's proposal also would allow greyhound tracks and some horse tracks to do away with live racing --- a process known as "decoupling" --- while continuing other more-lucrative gambling activities, such as card rooms.

And his proposal would allow "racinos" in Miami-Dade and Broward counties --- which already have slot machines --- to add up to 25 blackjack tables.

Galvano said the provisions of the Senate plan would only go into effect if the state can reach a deal, known as a "compact," with the Seminoles.

The Senate plan is a contrast to a more status-quo House proposal, expected to be approved by a key committee Thursday.

Acknowledging the differences between the two measures, Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Wednesday his plan puts the Senate "in a posture to move forward in the process."

Legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott's office are trying to negotiate a new deal with the Seminoles after a portion of a 2010 compact expired in 2015.

The portion, which was at the center of the federal lawsuit, gave the tribe the exclusive rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at most of the tribe's casinos.

A federal judge found that the designated player card games operated by pari-mutuels violated the Seminoles' exclusivity to conduct the banked games.

The state has appealed.