Floridians favor renewing the Seminole compact, 61 percent to 26 percent, according to a recent poll of 600 Floridians, commissioned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The agreement gives the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games in three Broward County casinos, Tampa and Immokalee in exchange for billion to the state over five years. Conducted by Neil Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies in Alexandria, Virginia, the poll also showed Floridians have a favorable impression of the Seminoles by 56 percent to 8 percent.
“The Seminole Tribe of Florida remains a trusted name in Florida and a sizable majority of Floridians support the extension of the gaming compact with the State of Florida. With options that will determine the future of gaming in Florida on the table, the Seminoles enjoy broad support for a continued partnership with the state. The poll shows a preference for the status quo,” Newhouse said.
In other poll findings, 62 percent said the governor should renew the agreement with the Seminoles and 70 percent said gambling in the state should remain the same or less.
The tribe also is running a television ad campaign that calls the compact and its $1 billion in revenues for the state “a partnership that works for Florida.” The ads feature Florida Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Mark Wilson and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover.
The portion of the tribal compact giving the tribe exclusive table games rights will expire in July. Last year Governor Rick Scott and the Seminoles were close to proposing a seven-year compact extension to the Florida legislature for approval, but Scott backed off when it appeared the agreement did not have adequate legislative support. Since then negotiations have ground to a halt.
Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner said, “The tribe is not ruling out anything regarding the renegotiating of the compact or the expansion of the table games provision of the compact.” He noted extending the exclusivity portion of the compact would save more than 3,000 jobs and allow the tribe to move forward on multimillion-dollar projects to expand its Tampa hotel and build a second hotel in Hollywood, creating more than 15,000 jobs.
The tribe made about $2.2 billion in 2014, sending the state a total of $237 million. Tribal projections show the Seminoles averaging about $400 million in payments to the state between now and 2030.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Dana Young filed a 316-page bill that she said “provides for an unprecedented contraction of gaming in the state.” Young added, “Under the scenario presented in my bill, Florida takes back control of existing gaming in our state and provide a clear blueprint for the path it will take in the future.” John Sowinski, director of No Casinos, an anti-gaming group heavily supported by Disney and Universal and other Orlando attractions said, “This bill would cause the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history. It invites wall to wall casino gambling in Florida, and the social costs and crime that go with it.”
If lawmakers approve the bill, the state could lose all the revenue it receives from the Seminoles, about $260 million a year. However Young said the $350 million generated in gaming revenues from two new destination resort casinos proposed in her bill would be “significantly more than the current revenue sharing under the Seminole Compact and the state will enjoy all the related economic benefits from the destination resorts.”
Young’s legislative package actually includes four bills, with a proposed constitutional amendment to stop any gambling expansion after this bill is passed. The main bill, HB 1233, would:
? Allow a destination resort casino to operate in Miami or Broward; operators would have to pay a minimum $175 million tax rate and a local referendum would have to pass.
? Require resort-casino applicants to make a minimum capital investment of $2 billion.
? Limit the property to use just 10 percent of its square footage for the gaming floor.
? Reduce the tax rate for the seven existing South Florida racinos from 35 percent to 25 percent.
? Decouple dog racing permits from casinos and card rooms.
? End all tax credits for greyhound racing.
? Establish a Gaming Control Commission.
? Allow historic racing machines at racetracks outside of South Florida.
? Allow Palm Beach and Lee counties to operate slot machines at their dog tracks.
? Impose a moratorium on new gambling permits.
The Seminole poll asked voters about the legislation and the results showed 50 percent oppose Young’s bill, with 39 percent in favor. Also, 63 percent said the bill would result in an increase in gaming in the state. And a plurality of voters (36 percent less likely, 31 percent more likely) said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for the state legislature if he or she supported the legislation.