Gulfstream and Mardi Gras at Odds Over Gambling Bills

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If you're looking for a safe investment in this rough recession, I'd consider betting on gambling. Both the Florida House and Senate are considering new legislation that would ease restrictions on gambling in this state.

At the same time, horse tracks like Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach are anxiously awaiting different legislation passed in the House this week that would open the door for a previously moribund industry in Florida: quarter horse racing. Meanwhile officials from pari-mutuels like Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center, down the road from Gulfstream, are calling proposed quarter horse permits a "bait and switch" aimed only at increasing card room profits for a select few.

Dan Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Casino, told the Herald: 

''These quarter horse permits are nothing more than a blatant attempt to open up a card room and any form of gambling that may come down the pike. Quarter horse racing is dead. It is not coming back."

But if horses aren't your thing, the House and Senate have a few more options for you.

Another bill the House passed Monday would eliminate blackjack at tribal casinos like the Hard Rock, but would increase betting limits in poker across the state (raising the maximum buy-in from $100 to $1,000), allow card rooms to operate 24 hours a day, and decrease taxes pari-mutuels pay on profits from slot machines. It's a big step forward for the traditionally conservative, anti-gambling House.

The Senate went even further. That body's proposed bill would allow complete "Vegas-style" gaming (which include previously banned games like craps and roulette) in tribal casinos, and allow blackjack and Bingo-style slots at tracks in Florida.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the House plan would generate $373 million for next year's budget and $282 million a year after that. The Senate plan creates a bigger windfall, generating $568 million in the first year. Big numbers when the state has a $6 billion shortfall.

Pompano Park has not received a quarter horse permit, but yesterday Broward county officials approved plans to expand the harness track, owned by Isle of Capri, to include a 500-room hotel and an additional 67,000 square feet of gambling space. Pompano Beach commissioners had already approved the plans.

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