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Senator Pulls Plug On Expanded Florida Gambling

In the midst of a budget meeting, Florida State Senator Garrett Richter (l.) announced that comprehensive gambling reform legislation was dead for the year, due to extended compact negotiations between Governor Rick Scott and the Seminole tribe.

In a surprise announcement in the middle of a Florida Senate budget hearing, state Senator Garrett Richter said due to ongoing negotiations between Governor Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, “there won’t be any comprehensive reform legislation this year. Sound policy must take into account the compact’s substantial revenue sharing and exclusivity provisions,” said Richter, who before and during the current legislative session had actively pushed for expanding gambling in the state.

The overall compact between the state and the Seminoles will end in 2030, but Scott and the tribe are negotiating provisions that will end next year. It gives the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games like blackjack at five of its seven facilities for five years. In exchange, the tribe agreed to pay the state a minimum of $1 billion.

The Seminoles can halt those payments if slot machines are allowed anywhere outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, excluding those operated by other tribes. The tribe also can reduce the payments if South Florida parimutuels are allowed to have banked card games, or if slots are authorized at any facilities that were not already operating in Broward or Miami-Dade, except for Hialeah Race Track, when the deal was signed.

Richter said, “If we put the gaming reform cart in front of the Seminole compact horse, we run the risk of getting policies at cross purposes.”

He said he has heard the negotiations are going well, “and I think we can reasonably expect an agreement soon that will significantly alter revenue sharing and revenue sharing provisions.”

In an op-ed in the Sun Sentinel newspaper, Seminole General Counsel Jim Shore wrote that the state should reject proposed destination resort casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and focus on its agreement with the tribe.

“A billion dollars in revenue sharing, and growing. Tens of thousands of jobs. Billions in economic impact. It adds up to a great deal for Florida, one in which we’re pleased to be a partner, and one that deserves to continue on well into the future,” Shore wrote.

Besides the Seminole tribe, the Disney Corporation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also opposed expanded gambling. They have spent millions of dollars on lobbyists to promote their viewpoint, along with Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Malaysian-based Genting Group who hoped this would be the year legislators would approve destination casinos in South Florida.

The Seminoles’ gambling empire started as high-stakes bingo when the federal government granted exclusive rights to Indian tribes in the 1970s. Today the tribe operates casinos in the Miami area, Tampa, Hollywood, Dania, Clewiston, Brighton and Immokalee, which is about to undergo a multi-million dollar renovation including a Hard Rock Hotel.

The tribe two years ago canceled plans to build a $465 million casino in Atlantic City, but reportedly has considered a purchase of the Revel Casino Hotel on the Boardwalk, which would provide it with an internet gaming license in New Jersey.

Other tribal business ventures include:

• Casinos in Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Dominican Republic, Macau and Singapore.

• Resorts in Florida, California, Mexico, Thailand and Malaysia.

• Extensive cattle and farming operations.

The Seminoles reported $2 billion in revenue in 2012. Each tribal member reportedly receives $100,000 or more in annual dividends.