With little publicity, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed on April 28th, 2010 the bill approving the $1 billion dollars Seminole gaming agreement with the state and scaling down the tax rate for pari-mutuel facilities in South Florida.
The law gives the Seminole Indian tribe the exclusive chance to offer blackjack at five of its seven casino facilities in the state. The tribe also has the right to exclusively offer Class III slot machines outside of South Florida. In exchange for the chance to offer blackjack and Class III slot machines, Florida will receive $435 million dollars this year and at least one billion dollars over the next five years.
And if the gaming revenue of the tribe improves, Florida could earn another three hundred million dollars over that period of time. Under the plan, pari-mutuels in South Florida will see tax rates reduce from fifty percent to thirty-five percent and licensing costs for slot machines slashed from three million dollars annually to $2.5 million dollars in 2011 and two million dollars in 2012.
The bill also open the possibility of no-limit poker at pari-mutuel card rooms and improves poker hours from twelve to eighteen hours Monday through Friday and twenty-four hours a day during weekends.
Hialeah Racetrack will also be permitted to expand under the bill. Hialeah can now offer slot machines next year ad will be able to change half of its quarter horse races to thoroughbred races.
The deal with the tribe has been the top priority for Gov. Crist, who started negotiating the agreement three months after assuming office. After the first compact was questioned in 2008 by former House Speaker Marco Rubio invalidated it.
In an extended legislative session last year, lawmakers created guidelines for Gov. Crist regarding negotiating a new deal with the tribe. But the Seminoles and Gov. Crist dismissed some of requirements of the legislature when the signed a second deal, prompting state lawmakers to dismiss that proposal and begin again this year.
Gov. Crist said that the signing of the bill is the last step in a monumental effort that benefits both Florida and the Seminoles. Legislative sponsors Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) witnessed the Gov. Crist's signing of the compact.
Gov. Crist said that families of Florida will be the main beneficiary of the agreement as well as state education. In a statement, the Seminole tribe thanked Gov. Crist for his "unwavering support", adding that the compact helped protect thousands of jobs in Florida and helped create new employment opportunities.
Because the Seminole Indian tribe is considered a sovereign nation and not subject to federal and state laws, it can only be required to give revenue to Florida if it will receive something in return. The Seminoles' growing gaming presence in the state especially in Tampa, which is the location of its biggest Hard Rock Casino-threatens the survival of Florida pari-mutuels that do not offer slot machines.
According to a study made by the Innovation Group, a casino financing specialists, the Seminole tribe's gaming expansion in the area of Tampa Bay affected the prize money for racing at the Tampa Bay Downs greyhound racing track by five percent in 2007-2008 and twenty-two percent in 2008-2009.
Ken Plante, a lobbyist for Tampa Bay Downs, said that the gaming compact will put pari-mutuels in a big disadvantage. The Interior Department must approve the compact within forty-five days. A spokesperson for Gov. Crist said that the governor will have a ceremonial signing of the compact with the Seminole tribe in South Florida in the next few weeks.
Saturday, July 31 , 2010