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House lays Seminole Compact failure at feet of Senate

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It’s the Florida Senate’s fault that the Seminole Compact wasn’t passed this session, two House leaders said Friday afternoon.

They rejected claims that there weren’t enough votes in the House, saying instead there was no point in moving a bill that wasn’t going to be considered across the Capitol Rotunda. (For today’s background, click here.)

The Senate gave up on it earlier this week, with President Andy Gardiner saying the compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle.” This is his last year in office.

“We wanted to keep hope alive, but obviously nothing panned out,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. “We figured there was no life in it … as for 2016, it won’t have an opportunity to come back up.”

“It just couldn’t get done in the Senate,” he added. “There wasn’t a compromise opportunity to get it done.”

Gardiner and other Senate leaders weren’t available Friday night because that chamber was still meeting.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the Finance and Tax Committee, said he believed there were “no fewer than” 80 votes in the 120-member House to pass the re-negotiated agreement.

He also feared that now the courts will essentially make gambling policy for the state as several related suits are pending.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to consider a challenge by a Creek Indian-operated racetrack in Gretna that it and pari-mutuels in five other counties can offer slots because voters approved the machines in local referendums.

Competing lawsuits are also before two federal judges.

In one, the Seminoles say the state violated a previous promise of blackjack exclusivity by allowing card games known as player-designated games, similar to some versions of player-banked poker.

The tribe offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

In another suit, the state alleges that the tribe current offering of blackjack is technically unauthorized because one part of the previous agreement expired and Seminole blackjack going on now is illegal gambling.

“If we don’t take action, we will surrender the state’s involvement in this critical decision-making,” Gaetz said. “If there is judicial action that deems the state in violation of the Compact, we’ll have the deprivation of revenue, a loss of control on the expansion of gaming … and we look dysfunctional.”

The previous blackjack deal was worth at least $1 billion over five years to the state treasury, though payments usually exceeded $200 million per year. Revenue from the tribe stops without a new deal.

It wasn’t clear whether the new Compact would still go to the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian gambling, for review and separate approval.

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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