Blaise Ingoglia’s bill could open up gambling options in the state

Sen. Blaise Ingoglia is betting big on a new gambling law that could lead to new major venues opening casinos despite local government opposition.

The legislation (SB 1054) would allow existing gaming permit holders to relocate operations elsewhere within a 30-mile radius. And the legislation would allow those permit holders to ignore any local regulations prohibiting such transfers.

One of the main beneficiaries of the legislation would be a billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, which owns the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach. Soffer’s family also owns the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach and has pushed for legislation to allow a casino to open there.

Ingoglia’s bill would allow Soffer to take such a step. The legislation imposes some restrictions on new gaming opportunities, saying a permit cannot be moved to a location within 15 minutes of Hollywood casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Seminole Tribe of Florida recently agreed to a new gaming compact with the state, which is now fully online after a series of legal challenges.

However, the Fontainebleau Hotel is outside the 15-mile radius of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s nearby Hollywood Casino.

However, the city of Miami has opposed such a move. “It’s an existential threat to our community,” said the former Miami Beach mayor Dan Yellower in comments to Miami Herald.

“If the legislature approves (the bill) and the courts don’t do their job, there’s no way there’s going to be just one casino,” Gelber said.

Gelber is referring to a 2018 constitutional amendment in which Florida voters approved a measure requiring all gambling expansions to be approved by voters via ballot referendum unless that expansion only addresses gambling “on tribal areas”.

The same provision has led to a state-level lawsuit challenging the Gaming Compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state because that agreement allows mobile sports betting. But the Seminole Tribe of Florida said a referendum was unnecessary because the servers hosting these bets are on tribal lands.

However, Gelber and other opponents of new casinos would argue that Ingoglia’s proposal must be approved by voters. Still, many other anti-gaming advocates would likely oppose the bill’s efforts to override local regulations that prohibit expansion of gambling.

So far, no House member has filed a companion text to Ingoglia’s bill, which the senator filed Thursday. The 2024 Legislative Session begins January 9.

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