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House all but declares defeat on Seminole Compact, gambling legislation

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Their lips were saying “not dead yet” but House leadership otherwise made clear that the Seminole Compact and gambling legislation were goners for this session.

“I’m not ready to declare it dead yet,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who shepherded the bills through the process this year. Diaz spoke after the House’s floor session.

After a deep breath, he added, “…but that’s the word around town.”

Diaz said he talked to his counterpart, state Sen. Rob Bradley, earlier in the day. Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, chairs the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, which oversees gambling issues.

“I said, ‘Do you think it’s really and truly dead?’ And he said…” Diaz nodded his head up and down, signaling Bradley said yes.

Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman Gary Bitner did not comment on Tuesday’s turn of events, but said the tribe might issue a statement on Wednesday.

The tribe’s Tallahassee attorney had blamed the apparent collapse of the 2016 gambling bills on lawmakers bending over backward to appease the state’s dog and horse racing concerns.

The Compact was a new agreement to let the Seminoles continue to offer blackjack at their tribal casinos in return for $3 billion to the state over seven years.

But Barry Richard, who represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida, questioned the Legislature’s trying to help the state’s struggling pari-mutuels, expanding their ability to offer slots and cards as horse and dog racing’s appeal continues to decline.

Ultimately, as Senate budget chief Tom Lee said, there weren’t enough votes in any of the Legislature’s gambling factions to pass something.

“You were never going to get 61 votes without some kind of pari-mutuel concessions,” Diaz said, referring to a majority of the House’s 120 members. “But there does come a point where it gets too heavy.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli separately told reporters he wasn’t counting the Compact out yet, but also said, “We all understood what was coming. There was just a reality to all that.”

That said, Diaz offered, “I’m willing to see if we can get the blood moving again.”

Ironically, one gambling lobbyist asked about the Compact’s chances this session said, “…It’s in full bleed.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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