- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A bid to bring major casinos to South Florida was dealt a significant setback under a sweeping gambling proposal rolled out late Monday by the Republican-controlled Florida House.

The House bill, sponsored by the GOP chairman who is overseeing gambling legislation, would create a statewide commission to oversee the multi-billion dollar industry.

But it does not authorize the creation of two Las Vegas-styled casinos. A Senate proposal released last week would allow resort casinos in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Instead the House would leave it up to voters to decide if casinos could ever come to the Sunshine State.

That’s because the House is also proposing a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval to for any future expansions of gambling. An amendment requires a yes vote by 60 percent of voters in order to pass.

Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and sponsor of the bill called the House plan a “responsible proposal.” He added that would it also “clean up significant and glaring loopholes in current law.” Schenck said that any gambling bill considered during the session must be accompanied by the constitutional amendment.

The House proposal would also appear to do little to undo the current compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that currently brings in more than $200 million a year to the state.

The tribe operates several casinos around the state, including the large Hard Rock casino in Tampa. The tribe inked a deal with former Gov. Charlie Crist that allowed slot machines and card games such as blackjack. The main portion of that compact, however, expires in 2015 and it’s not clear if Gov. Rick Scott plans to begin negotiating with the Seminoles anytime soon.

The decision of House Republicans to throw out a starkly different proposal from their Senate counterparts could be another sign that the Legislature may be unable to yet again reach any agreement on gambling. The annual 60-day session starts on Tuesday.

The House killed a bill two years ago to bring resort casinos to the state, but last year legislative leaders agreed to undertake a major study of the state’s gambling industry.

Some in Florida’s business community, including political heavyweights such as Disney, remain steadfastly opposed to any gambling expansion. All sides caught up in the fight over gambling, have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign accounts.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples and chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, said it may be a few weeks before the Senate gambling proposal is ready to “leave the runway.” Richter’s committee spent nearly 90 minutes going over the legislation (SB 7052) but he said it is unlikely legislators will vote on the bill until later this month.

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