The opening salvo in what promises to ignite debate about expanding gambling across Florida came last week when a pivotal Senate committee approved a comprehensive bill by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. The chamber’s Regulated Industries Committee passed the legislation without debate or amendments, and the lead House negotiator on a new compact with the Seminole Tribe applauded the Senate action after years of gridlock.
Cue Disney and the other heavyweights uneasy about the negative impact on Florida’s family-friendly reputation around the world. Disney alone contributed $2.4 million into the anti-gaming campaign last year. This Editorial Board has consistently sided with the anti-expansion forces, but the reality is the state cannot continue to kick this can down the road.
One key provision of the state’s 2010 gaming compact with the tribe — exclusive rights to offer blackjack and baccarat in exchange for a piece of the revenue pie — expired in 2015 and a new agreement has not been negotiated. The tribe sued and the state counter-sued over whether the Seminoles could continue to conduct banked card games after the expiration of that provision, and the lawsuits were heard in October.
The financially struggling pari-mutuel industry has been clamoring for expanded gaming options for years. Some sort of resolution must be forthcoming, or the tribe’s lawsuit could result in a disadvantageous judicial ruling for the state. The legislation from Galvano, who has played a leading role in gaming negotiations from the beginning, is only the opening gambit in negotiations with all the stakeholders.
Money has always been the issue — from all sides. Since the current gaming landscape tilts toward the tribe, Galvano’s bill spreads the wealth around, so to speak.
The framework for that bill has been evolving over the years. After leading the negotiations for the original compact with the Seminoles, Galvano learned “that you could not move a compact through the process unless you has some form of equity legislation that continued to balance the multiple interests,” he said last year before the Legislature failed to craft a compromise.
The stakes continue to grow. The Senate legislation seeks to recoup as much as $325 million in tribal revenue sharing this year alone with annual payments amounting to some $450 million. Facing a $1 billion budget deficit this year, the money “could make a huge difference” in the state budget, Galvano told the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau last week.
Money has always been the issue — from all sides. Since the current gaming landscape tilts toward the tribe, Galvano’s bill spreads the wealth around, so to speak. By necessity. he also aims to create “stability for a dubious marketplace.” Dubious indeed.
Under Senate Bill 8, the Seminoles would retain exclusivity with the card games, but would lose that right in South Florida. Its monopoly on slot machines would shrink from statewide to just Tampa. All Miami-Dade and Broward slots casinos would be granted 25 blackjack tables each. The measure also affirms most of Gov. Rick Scott’s 2015 agreement with the tribe that lets the Seminoles convert all seven of its gaming properties into full-fledged casinos with blackjack and exclusive rights to roulette and craps in exchange for that annual $325 million payment.
This could open the door for Genting, a Malaysian company, to finally build a resort casino on Miami’s waterfront, a goal that has cost the company millions in political donations and lobbying.
Galvano’s bill also allows slot machines in the other eight counties where voters approved referendums to convert dog and horse tracks as well as frontons into slots casinos. Best of all, especially for animal rights organizations, the measure lets those businesses terminate live racing and games. And all pari-mutuel card rooms could offer player-banked card games. Other counties can vote on slot machine licenses after Jan. 1, 2018.
Would Florida become the nation’s slot machine capital of the country under Galvano’s wholesale overhaul of gaming, as has been suggested? Slots certainly could become ubiquitous under this legislation.
The measure also regulates the popular fantasy sports business among other gaming provisions.
Galvano intentionally intertwined the interests of each stakeholder, an astute maneuver designed to win support and break the standoff on gaming and compact legislation. Negotiations will likely alter the bill.
SB 8 would only become effective when a compact with the Seminole Tribe is approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
While we oppose the expansion of gaming in Florida in favor of the state’s family-friendly image, the impasse should be resolved legislatively without undue judicial influence.