Political donations have been flowing since Florida Governor Rick Scott announced on December 7 he signed a new 20-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The agreement would give the tribe exclusive rights to operate blackjack and add craps and roulette at its seven casinos, in exchange for paying the state .1 billion over seven years. The compact must be approved by the legislature which reconvenes in January.
Over the past three years, the Seminole Tribe has given more than $2.7 million to more than 90 politicians, 12 political action committees and the two major parties. That’s more money than the tribe gave out in the previous 12 years combined, and far surpasses political donations by other gambling interests, according to state campaign finance records. The major recipient has been the Republican Party of Florida, which collected $100,000 from the tribe in 2015 and $1.1 million in the previous two years. Another $75,000 went to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee earlier this year.
In equal opportunity giving, the tribe also gave the Florida Democratic Party $115,000 in 2015 in addition to $590,000 over the previous two years. Beyond the two parties, the largest single donation by the tribe was $500,000 in 2013 to Scott’s PAC, Let’s Get to Work.
The tribe also gave $5,000 to PACs run by key state legislators, including state Senator Rob Bradley and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, Republicans who were lead legislative negotiators during compact talks.
Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said, “The Seminole Tribe of Florida has been, and continues to be, actively engaged on multiple levels in the political and legislative process.” Under the new compact, the Seminoles pledged “to make significant investments” in their gambling facilities, including $1.8 billion on hotels and other non-gaming amenities.
Still, the Seminoles’ donations to state political campaigns lags far behind the $6 million-plus given over the last three years by entities affiliated with Walt Disney Company or Florida Power.
Resorts World Miami, a division of the Malaysia-based Genting Group, also gave $20,000 to Scott’s PAC on December 10—the company’s single largest donation since it gave the Republican Party of Florida $50,000 on March 3.
Resorts World Miami’s donations to Scott have helped him collect almost $100,000 through the first half of December for the PAC, which has raised more than $640,000 since October 1 and more than $4 million since the start of 2015. It’s no coincidence that the new compact would offer a gaming license for slot machines at a casino in Miami. The Genting Group has long expressed its desire to build a casino resort on Biscayne Bay at the former site of the Miami Herald building. Scott cannot seek re-election because of term limits, but speculation is that he’s planning a 2018 U.S. Senate run.
When announcing the Seminole deal, Scott said, “This is a $3 billion compact. It puts a cap on the Seminole Indian gaming and it limits the expansion of gaming in the state, so this does the right thing.” However, some would contend the compact does expand gaming; combined with the Genting contribution to Scott, observers said the compact faces many challenges. Among them is that the compact would allow the Palm Beach Kennel Club to stop offering racing and install 750 slots. Owner and Chief Executive Patrick Rooney Sr. said the track would invest $100-$150 million to build a new casino and provide up to 2,000 jobs. “We’re up at bat, and the only question would be the legislature approving it or not,” Rooney said.
But voters in five other counties already have approved slots. State Senator Jack Latvala said, “I just have a problem picking one winner and five losers. I don’t know how we can do that.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said, “As Scott knows, there are no guarantees in this process. We’ll just have to wait and see, to see what happens. Certainly, the compact piece is important. But what else is there that potentially needs to be looked at.”