Legislation would limit slot machines to electronic bingo, video lottery - Saturday 12th of March 2005

House leaders are proposing that Broward County pari-mutuels be limited to a less intensive gambling machine than the traditional full-fledged slots machine in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

That's one of the key issues in a draft of proposed legislation that the House Business Regulation Committee released Wednesday.

The idea would be to restrict the three tracks and the jai-alai fronton that want traditional slots to gambling machines such as electronic bingo and video lottery -- the same "Class II" machines operating in Florida's tribal casinos.

A second key question is tax rate. The House proposal is silent on that issue but it does include a clause that would hold the pari-mutuel industry accountable for producing half a billion dollars for Florida schools, as the sponsors promised voters in their campaign last fall.

In November, voters statewide approved a ballot measure to allow voters in Broward and Miami-Dade to decide if they wanted to permit slots at tracks and jai-alai frontons. Two weeks ago, voters in Miami-Dade said no but voters in Broward said yes.

Now state legislators must figure out how to regulate and tax slot machines in Broward. The issue is complicated by federal law, which permits Indian tribes to negotiate for agreements to have whatever kind of gambling is allowed elsewhere in a state.

Gov. Jeb Bush has been a consistent foe of gambling and is likely to be a force for limits. But gambling opponents also say they'll pass something fair and reasonable to honor the intent of voters and avoid a court fight.

Bush has expressed interest in keeping the Broward pari-mutuels limited to Class II.

A two-page memo that was circulating the Capitol on Wednesday and titled the "Governor's Proposal for Legislation, " had "Class II" at the top of the list.

But Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre denied the memo came from the governor's office although he said some of the points have been items the governor has discussed with people.

Other points on the list included a sliding scale tax schedule based on number of machines that began at 45 percent and went up to 65 percent.

DiPietre said that wasn't the governor's recommendation.

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