Legislators at odds over gaming legislation

Tempers flared at a joint meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission and legislative delegation on Tuesday as elected officials debated bills aimed at bringing parity to Palm Beach County pari-mutuels.

While outlining the county’s legislative priorities, Legislative Affairs Director Todd Bonlarron explained its “opposition to legislation that would put the county’s pari-mutuel facilities at an unfair competitive disadvantage” with other areas of the state in the expansion of gambling. Bonlarron argued that because of its proximity to Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Palm Beach County should have parity in tax rates and games offered in order to be competitive, where other areas of the state are not as directly affected.

Last week, the County Commission agreed to put on the Dec. 6 agenda a vote to place slot machines on the 2012 ballot. Florida Rep. Joe Abruzzo also filed a bill that would do the same, but because other counties are joining the competitive landscape, there is no guarantee the bill will pass.
State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff agreed that gaming would be a contentious issue since “nothing done in the gaming world is in isolation.” In other words, anything proposed for Palm Beach County could be expected in other areas of the state. Bogdanoff said that any expansion of gaming outside of Broward or Miami-Dade County could “blow up the compact,” the agreement Florida signed with the Seminole Tribe, which is currently netting the state millions of dollars.

Abruzzo said that if his bill passes, it would have no effect on the compact because it would not be effective until after the compact expires.

Another item of concern, Bogdanoff said, is the more than 1,000 Internet cafes that offer online gaming with no regulation.

In moving on to the rest of the agenda, the county briefly outlined eight other issues as legislative priorities, including redistricting, the Florida Retirement System’s 3 percent employee contribution mandate, the Glades Regional economic development initiatives, pre-trial release, Internet sales tax, Tri-Rail, state library funding and proportionate fair-share mitigation.

The legislative delegation listed firearms regulation as one of its priority issues. State Rep. Lori Berman said the House would push for more regulation in two areas: child care facilities and governmental buildings. County Commissioner Shelley Vana asked that parks also be added for additional firearms regulation.

Additional issues for the delegation included advertising on school buses, bicycle safety and the Haile Brockington Act, governing safety alarms in vans transporting children. Rachael Ondrus, executive director for the legislative delegation, reported that nine local bills had been approved, including two addressing West Palm Beach’s police and fire pension funds.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams presents the County Commission’s certificate of appreciation to the outgoing chairman of the county legislative delegation, state Rep. Joe Abruzzo.
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