Florida, Seminole Tribe near new gambling deal

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Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are close to reaching a new deal that could force legislators to once again consider the future of gambling in the state.

So far there haven’t been any details released, but legislative leaders have confirmed that Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera met with them this week to let them know a deal with the Hard Rock hotel and casino owner could be reached soon.

“We basically said, ‘When you have a deal, let us know what it is,’ ” House Speaker Will Weatherford said Friday. “We’d love to look at it and we’ll tell you what we think.”

A spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz said that Gaetz told Lopez-Cantera “he would be interested in learning more if negotiations are finalized.”

A person close to the negotiations says the Scott administration is considering a May special session to consider a new compact with the tribe. The person requested anonymity because the person isn’t authorized to discuss the deal.

A spokesman for the Seminole Tribe said they wouldn’t comment.

Frank Collins, a spokesman for Scott, emphasized that a final deal has not been reached.

“There is no deal, and without a deal, there cannot be any decision on how to ratify a deal,” Collins said.

The Seminoles and Florida reached a deal in 2010 to give the Seminole exclusive rights to have blackjack and other table games at three Broward County casinos and others in Immokalee and Tampa. Part of that deal expires in 2015.

That deal guaranteed more than $1 billion in revenue to the state.

Florida legislators earlier this year were considering a comprehensive gambling bill that could have resulted in competition for the tribe by allowing new resort casinos coming to South Florida. But the legislation stalled after Weatherford said he wanted Scott to renegotiate the compact with the tribe before proceeding any further. Weatherford also said he wants to place a constitutional amendment before voters that would require any future gambling expansions to be approved by voters.

Talk of the latest deal is coming when legislators are just days away from ending their annual session on May 2.

If the governor asked legislators to consider a deal with the tribe next month it would come when he has the proposed $75 billion state budget on his desk. Scott has line-item veto power that gives him the ability to eliminate individual spending items being sought by legislators.

But that may not guarantee that lawmakers would go along with a new compact with the tribe.

“I don’t see the Florida House being leveraged into anything,” Weatherford said. “We have been very good to the governor this year.”

Some legislators may not consider giving a new deal to the tribe if legislators do not promise help to the state’s existing dog tracks and horse tracks. And Democratic legislators say they may not vote for a compact if they aren’t included in the negotiations.

Democrats are in the minority, but they may prove crucial in a vote on a new compact. In the past some Republicans have been unwilling to vote for anything that could be viewed as condoning or expanding gambling.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have any motivation just to ratify what the governor does,” said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation.

Florida ranked fourth overall in gambling revenue among Indian casinos with $2.2 billion in 2012, behind California, Oklahoma and Washington. The figure is a 3 percent increase, the second straight year of growth after a decline in 2010.