Florida poker measure would grant cardrooms right to short-distance relocations

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: December 27, 2023 2:33 pm EST

A new gambling measure introduced in Florida would grant most of the state’s cardrooms the right to relocate anywhere within a 30-mile radius of their existing locations, with only limited exceptions, in an attempt to secure a better location from which to provide gaming operations.

Florida Senate Bill 1054, introduced by State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) on December 21, would grant the relocation option to the state’s pari-mutuel operators. Most of Florida’s cardrooms operate under pari-mutuel licenses from facilities that originated as jai-alai parlors, greyhound tracks, and offtrack betting (OTB) betting facilities.

The synopsis of Ingoglia’s bill reads as follows and specifies cardroom operations as those which would be eligible for relocation:

Pari-mutuel Permitholders; Deleting a requirement that certain permitholders show that their permits have not been disapproved or recalled at a later election when submitting subsequent annual applications to the Florida Gaming Control Commission; authorizing greyhound dogracing permitholders to relocate if specified conditions are met; requiring that a slot machine gaming area of a relocated pari-mutuel facility be at the location for which the relocation was approved; providing that pari-mutuel facilities that relocated in accordance with the act are not subject to municipal restrictions on the establishment of cardrooms, etc.

Measure would override local gaming bans on casino expansion

The reference to such relocations not being subject to municipal (local) restrictions is a highly controversial point, one that was met with immediate opposition. Many of Florida’s upscale communities have battled against any casino-style expansion in their immediate vicinity, renewing the NIMBY (“Not in my back yard”) argument that has always been associated with live-gaming expansion.

A report on Rep. Ingoglia’s measure from the Tampa Bay Times noted immediate opposition to the measure from anti-gambling advocates and representatives of jurisdictions where such casino activity is already barred. Former Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber described the bill as “an existential threat to our community.” Miami Beach is one such city that has banned casino-style gambling.

The measure’s de facto override of any local anti-casino ordinances all but assures lawsuits would fly in the unlikley event it was ever passed into law, as any gaming expansion — as it would be argued by opponents — must be approved by voter referendum. If approved, the bill calls for a live date allowing cardroom relocations beginning July 1, 2024.

It appears Rep. Ingoglia’s measure lacks widespread support, and it may best be viewed as a show pony designed to demonstrate his own support for Florida’s pari-mutuel industry. To date, no parallel version of the bill has been filed in the Florida House.

Certain special protections remain intact in Ingoglia’s bill

A handful of special protections already incorporated into Florida gambling law are reiterated in Rep. Ingoglia’s measure. Among them is a 15-mile buffer zone protecting Hollywood, Florida, south of Miami, where the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock Hollywood casino is located. The Seminole Tribe itself remains embroiled in an ongoing legal battle over its negotiated launch of online sports-betting services in the state.

The 15-mile width of the buffer zone is itself another carveout, designed to protect the possible future gambling interests of Donald Trump’s Doral Country Club and Jeffrey Soffer and the Soffer family’s Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. Both properties, according to the Tampa Bay Times, lie just outside the existing 15-mile no-competition zone protecting Hard Rock Hollywood.

Soffer has already tried to move his gaming license for the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach to the Fontainebleu, but has been rebuffed by local officials, while Doral also has a similar community-wide ban against gambling facilities.