12/06/2005 1:00AM

Florida slots still face hurdles


Committees in the House and Senate of the Florida Legislature have both unanimously approved bills to legalize slot machines at parimutuel facilities in Broward County but remain far apart on the key issue of how revenues from those machines would be taxed.

In the fall of 2004, Florida voters gave Broward and Dade counties the right to decide whether slot machines could be installed at parimutuel facilities. Last spring, Broward voters approved the issue, but Dade voters said no.

Lawmakers were required to draft slots legislation by July 1 but failed to do so. They were given a second chance when Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called a special legislative session this week to deal with the slots issue.

The four parimutuel facilities in Broward eligible for slot machines are Gulfstream Park, Pompano Harness, Hollywood Dog Track, and Dania Jai-Alai.

On Monday, the House Business Regulation Committee approved a bill that calls for a 55 percent tax on slot machines and a limit of 1,000 machines per facility. The House also amended its previous position of approving only Class 2 machines and agreed to the Senate's demand for Las Vegas-style Class 3 machines at all four facilities.

On Tuesday, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee countered with a bill that approved a sliding scale tax rate, one that is far lower than the House's version. The committee also set a limit of 2,000 machines per facility.

The Senate's version of the slots bill calls for a 35 percent tax on the first $125 million in revenues from slots and peaks at 55 percent on all revenues greater than $500 million.

Dennis Jones, chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee, said he believes there is strong support in the Legislature for the Senate plan. He also predicted the bill would not pass if the House does not make further concessions and remains at 55 percent.

Sam Gordon, president of the Florida division of the Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Tuesday that the horsemen could live with the Senate's version of the bill but had doubts whether the House would agree to adopt those proposals.

The House was scheduled to take up the issue again Wednesday morning.