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James F. Allen Criticizes Florida Legislature for Lack of Effort on Gaming Compact Issue

The head of gaming of the Seminole Tribe of Florida said that the Florida legislature that they can either have unlimited gaming all over the state or they can have $150 million annually from the tribe but they cannot have both.

James F. Allen, the tribe's chief executive officer of gaming operations spoke about the failure of the Florida legislature, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole tribe to agree on a compact on October 20th, 2009.

Under the existing federal law, the Seminole tribe is permitted to offer Class III slot machines at its gaming facilities because they are permitted at pari-mutuel facilities at South Florida. But for Florida to receive any revenue from the machines, it must make a deal with the Seminole tribe and grant it something that competing gaming facilities do not have.

Appearing before the Florida Gaming Summit held at the Seminole Hard Rock and Casino in Hollywood, Allen criticized the lack of development on a gaming deal out of Tallahassee. He said that what has been going on is not in the best interest of the Seminole tribe.

The main point of contention is how to ensure the continuous growth of Florida pari-mutuels, which now include slot machines at Flagler Racetrack in Miami-Dade County-without creating a gaming environment that severely affects the gaming capability of the Seminole tribe.

The Seminoles' leverage on the issue is that as a sovereign nation, it cannot be taxed by Florida or the federal government so if the state wants a portion of its profits, it has to give something in return to the tribe. That has been interpreted by the legislature in a bill approved last summer.

Lawmakers agreed to give the tribe banked card games like blackjack aside from slot machines at its gaming facilities in Hillsborough and Broward countries but restricted gambling to only slot machines at its four other gaming establishments in Florida.

Governor Crist and the Seminole Tribe agreed to most but not all of the House's requirements including paying Florida a minimum of $150 million a year for the next two decades. But it rejected a condition that would permit the state legislature to expand gaming elsewhere in Florida, so long as it was outside a one hundred mile radius of existing pari-mutuels.

The state legislature must sign on to the gaming compact and the House's main negotiator on the issue, Representative Bill Galvano, has proclaimed the agreement brokered by Gov. Crist is unacceptable. Gov Crist said that the House could approve the gaming compact during a special session in December.

But if that does not happen, the gaming issue will not be discuss until the regular session in March 2010. This is the 2nd gaming compact Gov. Crist has signed with the Seminole tribe; the first one was dismissed by the Florida Supreme Court because Gov. Crist failed to get the approval of the legislature.

Coconut Creek Democrat and a gaming compact supporter, Representative Jim Waldman said that he thinks that it is very unfortunate that legislative officials have not met with the tribe to solve their differences even though by existing state law they are not required to be an active party to the gaming deal. Waldman said that the legislature should more involve in the issue so that it can be solve immediately.

Several complicated component are involve in the issue, including the unwillingness by some people in Florida to expand gaming at all, the plan to permit for up to two dozen additional pari-mutuel facilities across Florida-including at South Beach's Fontainebleau and Tallahassee's need to solve dropping tax revenues. State legislators are also tied up to the fate of pari-mutuel facilities to gaming compact, giving them a fifteen percent break on their present fifty percent tax rate if the gaming deal becomes law.

The tribe, which is working under their first gaming agreement with Gov. Crist that permitted for casino table games in certain locations, went ahead with their gaming expansion plans. Last year, the Hard Rock casino started offering casino table games like blackjack, which Allen admitted have not been nearly earning as much as some individuals might suggest.

The Seminole tribe plans to expand their operations further, hoping to construct additional hotel rooms to its Tampa and Hollywood gaming location build up its establishment in Coconut Creek. But the uncertainty surrounding the gaming deal has made it impossible to predict the future bottom line of the tribe.

Allen said that with what is happening right now, it is not impossible to imagine 10-15 years from now that they have to face the possibility of not pushing through with their gaming expansion plans.

 

Thursday, November 05 , 2009
Tim Arnell