A budget crisis and economic crisis did on April 21st, 2010 what twenty years of political wrangling and lawsuits could not do: get the Florida Legislature approved a gaming agreement with the Seminole Tribe. The Florida House voted 74-39 to approve the compact and sent it to Governor Charlie Crist, who said that will sign it.
The compact features a guarantee that Florida will get at least $1 billion over the next 5 years in exchange for giving the Seminole exclusive right to offer banked card games like blackjack in gaming facilities in Broward County, Tampa and Immokalee. The tribe can also continue offering Las Vegas-style slot machines at all seven of its casino facilities.
If the Seminole casinos perform well, their payment to the state will increase based on a percentage of net earnings. Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and who has been tirelessly working to finalize an agreement for two years, said that the deal took negotiations that were stuck and place Florida back in control. Conservatives renounced the bill as "evil".
Democrats complained that the additional money did not go to education. Proponents said that it is an excellent deal for the state that will help solve the $3.2 billion budget deficit.
Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who worked on the talks, said that the reason why the agreement passed is the same reason cigarette tax was approved last year-they could not balance the state budget without the gaming money. He added that he was not naive enough to think that it was any other reason.
But Rep. Waldman added that it was an excellent deal for Florida and he commended Rep. Galvano for carefully navigating the minefields that exploded in the past attempts at finalizing an agreement. The Seminoles and Gov. Crist also commended Rep. Galvano and tribal spokesperson Gary Bitner said that the completion of the gaming compact will end any cases the tribe currently has pending with Florida.
Under federal law, the tribe must reach an agreement with Florida to operate Class III slot machines. Working together with the lawyers of the Seminoles, Gov. Crist's office and the Senate, Rep. Galvano reached a compromise by using an idea from Seminole Hard Rock Chief Executive Officer Jim Allen and transforming it into a package that buys enough time for the tribe, Florida and gaming competitors.
Seminole CEO Allen suggested that the Seminoles stepped away from a 20-year deal. Allen suggested a different proposal, suggesting that the state regulate casino table games-like blackjack-for five years. After that, if Florida expands casino table games in Broward and Miami-Dade, the Seminoles would scale down its payments to the state from revenues at its casinos in Broward County.
Regardless of whether lawmakers expand casino table games, the gaming compact requires the tribe to make payments to Florida on its Class III slot machines for twenty years. The compromise permits the pari-mutuels to continue to ask legislators for casino games to help their dying industry.
Florida lawmakers and voters will also have time to decide if they want to continue gaming expansion, including a push by gaming companies in Las Vegas to introduce "destination resort" casinos in Florida. The agreement also permits pari-mutuels to expand hours of operation for poker rooms and minimizes their tax rate by fifteen percent at the seven "racinos"-horse and dog racing tracks and jai-alai frontons with slot machines-in the counties of Broward and Miami-Dade.
The potential for more gambling, including the chance that the Seminoles will pursue major gaming expansions at its casinos, scares gaming opponents. Rep. Charles Van Zant(R-Keystone Heights) said that the compact damaged their faith and freedoms. The House decision crossed party line, falling on the boundaries of regional concerns.
Speaker designate Dean Cannon of Winter Park opposed the compact, citing his disliked to gambling. His hometown industries of Universal Studios and Disney are strongly against the measures. But even some conservatives in the House, who for three years have been a vital obstacle for passing a gaming deal, supported the approval of the Seminole compact.
Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven) said that he is not in favor of gambling but voted for it because it does not expand gambling but it regulates it. Some Democrats approved the measure but voiced some concerns that the money did not go toward state education.
Rep. Mary Brandenburg (D-West Palm Beach) voted against the proposal, saying that she was extremely concerned about the hardship that dog and horse tracks will endure to compete against the Seminoles.
Rep. Brandenburg's district includes the Palm Beach Kennel Club, a greyhound track that has sought bingo-style slot machines to better compete with the tribe. She added that the money Florida receives in the agreement "a trickle in the bucket".
Sunday, May 09 , 2010