Shifting politics of gambling could benefit Sarasota card room that began as race track – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Texas hold 'em is played at One-Eyed Jack's Poker Room's new location, 4404 Bee Ridge Rd, in the Palm Plaza Shopping Center in Sarasota.

Much has changed in his family’s business since 1944 when Jack Collins Jr’s grandfather purchased a greyhound racing track in Sarasota for $5,005 in back taxes.

The track had burned down. Collins’ grandfather revived it.

Collins grew up in the business, witnessing the decline of greyhound racing and the rise of other forms of gambling.

The biggest change came after Florida legalized poker rooms at pari-mutuel gambling facilities. The Sarasota Kennel Club’s card room opened in late 2006.

More:Almost there: Gambling expansion approved by Florida Senate, now ready for House

More:Sports betting OK’d in Florida, though likely to face legal, other tests

Texas hold 'em is played at One-Eyed Jack's Poker Room's new location, 4404 Bee Ridge Rd, in the Palm Plaza Shopping Center in Sarasota.

Now the One-Eyed Jack’s card room is the entire business. The Kennel Club stopped racing dogs in 2019. Collins closed the Kennel Club property last year and moved the card room to a new location on Bee Ridge Road.

Last week Collins sat at a table in the spacious card room and reflected on the changes that have transformed his business. The gambling expansion approved last week by the Florida Legislature could be another transformative moment.

“I think it’s a win, win,” Collins said of the gambling compact Florida lawmakers approved with the Seminole Tribe.

The compact allows the tribe to conduct sports betting in Florida. Card rooms such as One-Eyed Jacks also would be able to take sports bets, with the tribe receiving a percentage of the wager.

“It’s going to be new to everybody,” Collins said. “It seems a little different when you’re going to be a partner with what used to be your competition.”

One-Eyed Jacks is well-positioned for the change. The card room’s new facility already has a large wall of televisions in a sectioned-off space with tables and a bar. Some people come to One-Eyed Jacks to bet on horse and dog races around the country, which are shown on the wall of televisions.

Marquee horse races such as the Kentucky Derby, which generated roughly $400,000 in bets at One-Eyed Jacks this year, are the big sports betting events right now.

Soon, though, the televisions could be showing professional football, basketball and other sports that will be legal to bet on under the new gambling bill. Events such as the Super Bowl could eclipse the Derby as the big sports betting day at One-Eyed Jacks. Collins expects the change to draw a younger group of gamblers that could drive up business.

What to know:Florida lawmakers voted for a massive gambling expansion. But what betting is legal in Florida now?

More:Florida businesses blame federal benefits for labor shortage, but experts say it’s complicated

Long-time gamblers such as Robert Graber are eager for the change as well, though.

A retired middle school teacher and coach from New Jersey, Graber has bet on football and basketball games in his home state, where sports betting already is legal. He is a New York Giants season ticketholder and likes to bet on Giants games. Florida is behind the times, he said last week while visiting One-Eyed Jacks to bet on horse races.

“This is the 21st Century, not the 20th Century, get with it,” Graber said, arguing gambling is just another “leisure activity.”

Others worry that expanding gambling could have negative repercussions. Some social conservatives have opposed the expansion. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also came out against it.

“At the time when our economy is poised for an unprecedented takeoff after taking a hit from the pandemic, now is not the time to expand casino gambling which will benefit a handful at the expense of many,” Bush said.

Robert Graber of New Jersey, likes to play the horses. He says Florida is behind the times as he can bet on football and basketball games in his home state of New Jersey. One-Eyed Jack's Poker Room's new location, 4404 Bee Ridge Rd, in the Palm Plaza Shopping Center in Sarasota.

The politics of gambling appear to have shifted in Florida though, with Gov. Ron DeSantis and most legislators favoring the gambling expansion.

Critics of the gambling deal say it violates a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018 that says voters have the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling” in Florida.

The gambling legislation is likely to be challenged in court.

The final outcome could have a big impact on Collins’ 77-year-old business, but there’s little he can do right now except sit back and watch it play out.

“This thing’s far from being over,” he said.

Texas hold 'em is played at One-Eyed Jack's Poker Room's new location, 4404 Bee Ridge Rd, in the Palm Plaza Shopping Center in Sarasota.

Steube opposes Jan. 6 commission

U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, had a harrowing day at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob overran the building.

Steube heard a gunshot that killed someone, barricaded a door with a table so people could not break into the room where he was sheltering, and witnessed officers firing tear gas.

Despite everything he experienced, Steube voted last week against convening a bipartisan commission to investigate what happened on Jan. 6.

Steube’s office put out a statement after the vote saying the congressman opposed the legislation “due to its blatantly partisan and counterproductive approach to investigate political violence in the United States.”

“Instead of negotiating the legislation in good faith, Speaker Pelosi took this as an opportunity to attack her political opponents while omitting investigations for other political violence we have seen, including the June 2017 shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice, the attack on the U.S. Capitol Police on April 2, 2021, and riots last summer,” the statement continued.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, also voted against the commission. Two Republican members of Congress from Florida voted for the commission, both of them from the Miami area.

Data privacy bill will return

As a freshman lawmaker, state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, took on a big issue this year when she sponsored consumer data privacy legislation.

The bill was supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who held a press conference touting the measure. But it was staunchly opposed by business interests, who worried about the compliance costs and potential lawsuits.

Business leaders were able to water down the legislation in the Senate, and McFarland decided to kill the bill rather than accept a weaker version.

“Here’s what I learned – our 60-day session is a really short amount of time to introduce an idea to people for the first time, to have them understand it, digest and form opinions on it,” McFarland said. “That’s the case not only for my fellow legislators, but also the companies the bill would impact.”

McFarland said she wanted to spend more time to “get this bill right.”

While McFarland said she is “under no illusion” that corporations will suddenly come to love the bill, she believes it’s worth spending more time to educate them and work through concerns.

Corporations got much of what they wanted out of the Florida Legislature this year, including COVID-19 lawsuit protections to a big unemployment tax break. That they succeeded in weakening the data privacy bill to the point that its House sponsor felt it was better not to pass the measure could be seen as another victory for corporate interests, and a sign that they have undue influence on the Legislature.

“Someone could look at this and certainly come to that conclusion for themselves but it’s not the conclusion that I draw,” McFarland said. “Yes corporate interests have a voice, but they should in a bill that impacts how they do business.”

But in the end, McFarland believes those opposed to the bill haven’t prevailed in derailing it.  

“Perhaps they kicked the can down the road for another year,” she said.

Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at zac.anderson@heraldtribune.com