Despite Senate President Andy Gardiner’s publicly expressed disinterest in seeing the Florida Legislature renew the Seminole Gaming Compact, there is behind-the-scenes progress being made by lawmakers and lobbyists determined to expand gambling in Florida.
House Majority Leader Dana Young, who has been tasked by Speaker Steve Crisafulli to be the House’s point person on gambling issues, says that she is actively conferring with other lawmakers and stakeholders.
“This is beyond three dimensional chess,” Young said on Monday. “This is three dimensional chess played on several boards at once. … This is easily the most complex issue the Legislature may deal with this Session.”
Young stressed that her priority is to do what’s best for the state’s interests, not any special interest’s wishes.
“This is an opportunity to have full, open discussions with all stakeholders about their vision for the future of gaming in Florida,” said Young. “Everything is on the table.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Senate, where its President has repeatedly stated that he is comfortable with seeing the Seminole Gaming Compact expire, preliminary work is underway on two fronts: one to renew the compact, the second a catch-all bill which could include any number of measures to consolidate and re-regulate Florida’s gaming industry. Neither of these bills is officially in the bill drafting stage, but lobbyists representing at least two different gaming companies confirm the bills are being written.
“Everything’s lining up … There will be a gambling bill this year,” said one prominent lobbyist with multiple gaming interests before the Legislature who asked to remain anonymous otherwise they’d be accused of “spiking the football on the 5-yard line.
But what that gambling bill (or bills) will look like is still anyone’s guess.
Rep. Young said its too early to discuss the details of any legislation because she and her colleagues are still gathering input from the multiple interest groups — from those looking to bring destination resort casinos to the state to the already existing parimutuel facilities.
However, by most accounts, the first step in the process is coming to terms with the Seminole Tribe. A source close to those negotiations, or lack thereof as the case appears to be, says that the Seminole Tribe has been missing in action lately.
It’s thought that the Tribe may be misplaying its hand. Recent comments by the Tribe’s attorney, Barry Richard, are not sitting well with some lawmakers who took them to be counterproductive.
Richard told Tribune/Scripps that the Seminoles have legal grounds to keep offering card games, compact or no compact.
“It’s a good question, but the tribe would take the position they can continue” to offer card games, Richard said in an interview. “They’re also not looking to be in an adversarial position with the state. This agreement certainly has been lucrative for all involved.”
On the delay strategy, lobbyist Nick Iarossi, whose firm Capital City Consulting represents Las Vegas Sands, believes it is history repeating itself.
“I don’t believe the Tribe is going to remove its table games if the Legislature allows the compact to expire,” said Iarossi. “Some legislators believe the compact expiration will create leverage. I believe the legislature will be in the same position they were five years ago having to negotiate a compact with a party that has nothing to lose.”
Continued Iarossi, “The time to act is now before the compact expires and negotiate a deal that allows for a competitive market with a destination resort in South Florida.”
The 2010 compact approved by the Legislature allowed the tribe to gain a virtual monopoly on slot machines outside of South Florida and gave them table games such as blackjack at most of their facilities. But key portions of the deal expire this summer unless the tribe and the state craft a new agreement.
Under Florida law, dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons can also offer poker. Those in Broward and Miami-Dade counties can have slot machines.
The Seminoles, under their agreement with the state, can also offer card games like blackjack and baccarat at five of their seven establishments, including its Hard Rock Casinos near Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.
But games such as craps and roulette, two popular games in Las Vegas, are illegal everywhere.
The Rick Scott administration began gearing up for negotiations with the Seminoles in late 2013, hiring outside lawyers to assist them in talks over whether to extend the existing compact between the tribe and state.
Scott‘s staff nearly reached a multi-billion dollar deal with the tribe that would have allowed it to add roulette and craps at its South Florida casinos, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.
The deal was scuttled last spring amid resistance from state legislators.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.