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Subtle expansion of gambling reported in Fla. lottery machines

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The fact that Florida has voted down full casino gambling three times doesn’t mean that gambling opportunities in the state aren’t expanding, said Bill Bunkley, a legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention.
The Florida legislature is expanding gambling at some level on an annual basis, Bunkley said. During the 1998 session, legislators reduced the number of clerks required for self-vending lottery ticket machines from two to one in order to expand the pool of retailers qualified to use the machines. The law also extended instant lotto vending after an 18-month trial period, anticipating a gross annual revenue of about $9.5 million.
The vending machines are supposed to be under the direct supervision of the clerk, who has the capability to electronically deactivate the machine if a minor tries to buy a ticket. If a minor does obtain a ticket from the machine, the vendor is penalized by having to staff two clerks at the location.
Even with those provisions, teens have too ready an access to the machines, which frequently are placed in shopping malls, Bunkley said.
Several key pieces of legislation in 1996 paved the way for the player-activated machines, as well as authorized card rooms at pari-mutuel wagering facilities.
Florida allows two of three classes of gaming: class I — social games with low stakes — and class II — bingo, pulltabs, lotteries and non house-banking card games, such as poker.
Class III gambling — full casino gambling which includes slot machines and blackjack — is illegal in the state.
A difficulty in regulating gaming in Florida is the proliferation of “casino cruises,” which try to get around state law by conducting class III gaming in international waters.
“What’s done on ‘cruises to nowhere’ isn’t legal on land,” said Pat Fowler, director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, who estimated there are at least 26 “floating casinos, full-fledged casinos on water,” that dot the perimeter of the state.
Florida doesn’t allow casino gambling, but its citizens are provided with access to it on a local level, Fowler said, when community authorities allow the docking and departure of “casino cruises” from their ports.
Though some businesses get away with conducting class III gambling on ocean-bound cruises, land-based gambling, including Indian gaming, is subject to the bounds of state law.
A main provider of land-based gambling in Florida is Seminole Indian Gaming Palaces, located in Tampa, Hollywood, Immokalee and Brighton. The palaces must work within the same perimeters as any other gaming establishment in the state, offering solely class I and II forms of gaming.
This year, a U.S. attorney in Tampa is challenging the presence of video gaming at Seminole Tribe Gaming Palaces. The attorney considers video gaming to be a higher form of gambling than what is allowed in the state.
Tribes can conduct class III gambling in states where the activity is legal, with the federal stipulation they form a gaming compact with that state. In February 1997, the National Indian Gaming Commission reported there were 115 tribes with class III gaming and 164 tribe/state compacts in 24 states.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which provided for Indian gaming in the United States, requires states to negotiate in good faith with tribes seeking class III gaming compacts. If a state refuses to negotiate, the Secretary of the Interior can mediate the compact.
This procedure, which gives the final authority to the federal government, has been challenged in the courts by several states, including Florida.
Some of the states don’t want to be pressured to accept or expand class III gaming, but tribes see the right to form compacts as fundamental to their sovereignty status.
Bunkley said now is the time for Florida Baptists to ask candidates before the November elections about their positions on “any expansion of gambling,” not just whether they support casino gambling in the state.
“Florida Baptists need to regain their vigilance and their watch for any sign from elected officials, potential candidates or staff persons for the state of Florida, of an openness or willingness for even a slight expansion of any gambling interests or activities,” Bunkley said.

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  • Kristi Hodge