Seminole Tribe pays extra $4.3 million in gambling money for 2013, with more to come

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Gambling is so rewarding in Florida that the Seminole Tribe — facing the expiration of its exclusive deal to run casinos in 2015 — is sending an added $4.3 million to the state.

The Seminole Compact is the 2010 agreement that promises the Tribe will pay a minimum amount every year, adding up to $1 billion over five years. But Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida reports revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30 were enough to justify the extra payment.  

In less than two years, the Compact will expire, cutting the payments in half unless both the governor and legislature reauthorize it. These most recent estimates right before a Senate Gaming Committee meeting in Coconut Creek, part of the Legislature’s evaluation of proposed changes in Florida gambling. Changes could include destination casino resorts or adding slot machines at pari-mutuels beyond Broward and Miami-Dade Counties — where the Compact gives the Seminoles exclusive rights.

The current deal has the Tribe making payments in exchange for exclusive rights to provide games such as blackjack, and slot locations outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. The Seminoles pay a minimum $150 million annually for the first two years, $233 million in the both the third and fourth years. In 2015, the payment reaches $234 million.

In a complicated deal, notes Kam, the Tribe pays more after meeting certain thresholds. A windfall of $1.98 million in the fiscal year triggered the additional $4.3 million payment, much of it going to local governments. In 2014, the extra amount will triple, for a total payment of $248 million, and another $20 million in 2015. The Tribe must also pay 12 percent on up to $2 billion in revenues from slot machines and games such as blackjack.

As tribal revenues grow, slot machine revenue this year – around $142.2 million from pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties also increased 2 percent per year after slots, which began August at Hialeah Park Casino and Dania Jai Alai become fully operational.

Increased revenues are a sign of an improved Florida economy, and could create an incentive to negotiate with the Tribe to allow expanded gambling across the state. For example, one suggestion for the Gaming Committee was for the state to work a deal on payments for the Seminoles to keep the Tampa casino, one of the most profitable in the world. Others suggestions were to expand by allowing more table games in existing Tribe facilities, instead of building new casinos.

State economists also found and twist in the compact expiring on August 1, 2015, Kam writes. Seminoles would have 90 days to do away with card games, and Florida has no authority to do anything about shutting them down until the time has passed. That means they have an additional three months to keep the games.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.