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Florida Senate and House Races to Secure Gaming Compact Before End of Legislative Session

On April 29th, 2009, both House and Senate negotiators showed their bids on Wednesday as the final rounds of gaming negotiations began to hammer out a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe of Florida and make some concession to the tribe's non-Indian critics. The two houses remain far apart on important issues like whether to allow the Seminole tribe to keep offering blackjack at its casino facilities and what if any non-Indian facilities in the Broward and Miami-Dade counties will be permitted to do the same.

Another point is whether to permit pari-mutuel facilities to feature slot machines or if lowering existing tax rates and extending gaming hours will be enough to keep the industry stay afloat in these difficult times. Legislators have been asked to craft a gambling agreement with the Seminole tribe after the state Supreme Court voided the first gambling compact in late 2007 between the Seminole tribe and Governor Charlie Crist.

The tribe manages 7 casinos in the state. The Senate's gaming proposal allows pari-mutuels to host Class III slot machines and other casino games if the voters of the counties agree. For the Seminole tribe, the Senate gaming proposal scales back from a previous position by limiting card games in some Seminole casinos like Immokalee. The Seminoles would be able to feature blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat in most, but not all of its casino facilities.

Earlier Senate gaming compact version permitted banked card games in all Seminole casinos. The tribe would maintain rights to manage casinos in the counties where they now located outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. The Seminoles would have to pay a minimum of $500 million in the first year and $400 million in the 2nd and $250 million annually after that.

The House gaming proposal calls for $100 million annually. Pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward wishing to offer card games like blackjack to their customers would have to pay $25 million annually and pay $3 million annually to keep the gaming license. An important development took place on Tuesday when budget negotiators severed the gambling issue from education funding and the state budget process.

Instead, any profits would be place to Florida's rainy day fund. By dividing the two, legislators can vote against the gaming proposal without being accused harming the welfare of education. Despite the gaming proposal differences, leaders of both Houses remain optimistic that both measures can be resolved by the end of the session.

Governor Charlie Crist urged lawmakers to resolve the issue before the end of the legislative session. He added that it is an outstanding opportunity for the state to acquire a solid source of revenue for a period of twenty-five years. He added that the Seminole tribe has been very generous in the gaming negotiations with them for the past couple of years now.


Sunday, May 03 , 2009
Kim Watson