Casinos in limbo as state House fails to act on slots - Thursday 12th of May 2005

After spending more than $30 million to get slot machines approved in Broward County, the parimutuel industry walked away Friday from the legislative session empty-handed.

The Senate took up the slots-regulation bill Friday evening, agreed to a maximum tax rate of 55 percent and Class III machines.

Then it was up to the House to take action, but it didn't.

Now, the courts likely will decide the future of slot machines in South Florida, dragging out the start-up of slots to the track operators' dismay.

It's little wonder the four would-be casinos are now in limbo.

Neither the House speaker nor Senate president was enthusiastic about enacting any legislation to implement the referendum approved by voters in March. Like their leaders, members in the two chambers were diametrically opposed to the most basic component of the plan, the type of machines — slots or "slots lite." And Gov. Jeb Bush frowns at the notion of casino gambling anywhere in the state.

That leaves the Hollywood Greyhound Race Track, Gulfstream Park, the Pompano Park Harness Track and the Dania Jai Alai on ice.

"Obviously, the attorneys are talking," said Dan Adkins, owner of the Hollywood dog track, as he cooled his heels in a folding chair among the lobbying corps in the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers.

Lawmakers aren't scheduled to reconvene until next year, and the chances that any of the tracks will be bold enough to invest millions of dollars in equipment and upgrades without some idea of the regulations and tax rates they will be faced with is nil, Adkins said.

"No. None. Zero," he said.

That leaves the courts, or the outside chance that Bush and legislative leaders call a special session. That, too, is unlikely, given Bush's open campaigning against the referendum and intense dislike of gambling.

The slots bills were workshopped, experts were brought in "from all four corners of the world" and worked their way through committees — all for naught, said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville.

"If it doesn't pass, it's because somebody doesn't want it to pass," he said.

The folks losing out, said Adkins, aren't just the owners and operators.

"I can assure you you're going to hear an uproar in Broward County, if not the entire state, about this because they voted on it twice," he said.

The slots legislation was but one of a group of bills that languished as lawmakers spent more time off of the floor than on it on the final day of the session.

"It's just crazy. Nothing's going on here," Adkins said.

Without some idea of the casino framework, it's unknown how long it will be before Broward County sees slot machines in the four facilities.

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